Written by Gradye Parsons
Each month the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Moderator or Vice Moderator of the 220th General Assembly write a column of general interest for the church-at-large.
It was a generational moment. I had just baptized my grandson and was now presiding at table with my newly ordained daughter. Three generations intersecting in the historic Sacraments of the church. On the table was the freshly baked loaf of bread and the cup full of wine.
If you date a generation by roughly twenty years, sometime in this century we will approach the 100th generation to tear the bread and drink the cup. We should probably pull a committee together to work on that anniversary, because—for me—it marks one of those rare occasions that call us to pause and take stock of the life of the church. It has been a long journey since the first Christians met in small house gatherings throughout the Mediterranean to the multi-continental collection of the people of faith we are today.
Reflecting on centuries of change in the church, could you imagine trying to discuss with Paul the current controversy surrounding projection screens in the sanctuary? Or how would you explain to Timothy the weighty decision of what color the new hymnals should be? Perhaps Priscilla would understand the difficulty of finding room for emerging worshipping communities in the “normal” life of the church.
Yet then and now is the table. It has been wood, marble, bamboo, steel, glass, and plastic. The bread and cup have been made from the respective staples of a wide variety of cultures. The tableware has been silver and paper. And yet in the midst of the constantly changing nature of the body of Christ, the table has remained.
The table is one of those pieces of furniture that slips back into the room no matter how the décor evolves. It is an anchor and a sail. The table transcends time and pulls us forward to the future that belongs to God. The table calls us to be together when we are out of sorts with each other. The table reminds us that the gift of faith is never cheap. The table is yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
100 generations. That is amazing grace.
One sure sign of spring in my hometown was the return of the old men to the benches outside the courthouse. I was never certain where they went in the winter. It was not entirely clear what they did for a living. But they would appear yearly some time after the arrival of the robins and before the trees leafed out.
Upon seeing a Facebook photo of me holding my newborn grandson, one of my friends wrote that I looked “smitten.” To which I replied, “I am.”
Smitten is a word you do not hear used much anymore. The fact that its root is the verb “smite” makes it all the more interesting.
Ashes are the remains of a fire. Any fire. Whether a warming fire from logs burning on a cold day or a raging fire that results in the destructive loss of a home. The ashes before us this month originate in the fires that consumed the palm leaves from last year’s celebration of Palm Sunday.
No matter the fire, the results are the same. Ashes. The palm ashes are the remains of a fire. It is a long time from Easter’s celebration to the cold, winter day when we step forward to have our foreheads smudged on Ash Wednesday. The fire of Holy Week has dimmed. Many of the extra Easter faces have retreated. Sanctuaries are cold, the pews never quite warmed up by the furnace.
Moving into a new year is that simple, but the getting there is never simple at all. The things you planned to accomplish in 2012 are either done or they’re not. The new, improved you has lived another year and become ever so slightly improved but nonetheless older. For those of us who still write checks, we have to constantly remind ourselves to write 2013 on the date line. Even though it is a new year, it starts out very much in the same old ways.
Because it was one of those years when Christmas fell on Sunday, our church decided to have an informal worship service with the general theme of “come in your Christmas sweater.” Sunday was cold, but the sky was clear. People arrived in new sweaters, ties, and one very nice mink coat. The prize in my eyes went to the seven-year-old who rushed down the aisle in his brand new football uniform complete with helmet and pads.
October 15, 2012, marked the 60th anniversary of Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, one of the classics of children’s literature. National Public Radio reported on the struggle E. B. White had recording the audio version of the book. When it came to describing Charlotte’s death, it took the author seventeen takes before he could get through it without showing emotion in his voice.
My neighborhood is a great place to be these days. We are reaping the benefits of dedicated home gardeners in our midst. The bounty of produce is amazing. But what amazes me even more is the level of trust that is displayed.
The gardeners put their crops of tomatoes on untended stands in front of their homes. You pick your tomatoes, weigh them on a nearby scale, and put your money in a metal box. I have never heard of anyone stealing either tomatoes or money. It is really kind of remarkable in our gated, alarmed, and locked-down world.
It is said that our sense of smell is linked to some of our strongest memories.
One of those August memories for me is the scent of stacks of blue jeans in McKee’s Store. You might say that those jeans smelled of transition, as if they knew they were waiting for patient-thin mothers to purchase them for ungrateful boys for a new school year. They were very stiff jeans, as though their purpose was to rein in the freedom of summer. They were jeans meant for the combat of school playgrounds – jeans that would survive the school year through no effort of the one wearing them.