August 18, 2016
I've long known that "old tools work best"... especially in building new things. There's nothing like the feel of an old hammer or saw or pair of pliers in my hands to do a job, even a simple one. It's almost as if they have absorbed and retained their experiences, and allow the current user to channel their history. Several times last week, as I was installing a shower in our Norfolk house, I found myself using a tool that had belonged to my dad, or my maternal grandfather, and it seemed that the work "went better!" Maybe the tool conveyed their previous users' skills, or maybe my heart and mind were "distracted" by them, and I could focus on successfully completing the task at hand, rather than being concerned with mistakes I might make in the work. It was good!
My dad's "aviator shears" seemed to know just how to cut the metal precisely (clockwise or counter-clockwise), and Grandpa's massive pair of tin snips seemed as sharp as the day he gave them to me. The tape measure I've had a long time worked "just so," and the hammer hardly ever "missed the nail" I was driving into the wall. And all the while, I could sense "them" all around me, smiling at my clumsiness, snickering when I dropped something "for the fifth time" and had to get down on my hands and knees to find it, and wincing when I started to make a cut on the "wrong side of the line." It seemed to take "forever" to complete a complex set of tasks like installing a shower kit in a new setting... and it was even longer since there was a crowd having a conversation about my ineptitude in the background!
I've had some of those hand tools for 20 or 30 years, or more, and wouldn't take "something pretty" for any of them... let alone all of them. Not only do they have value in and of themselves, but they also carry the heart-values I've attached to them along the way. I’m sure there are shinier, more advanced models in the stores, with sharper blades and current "hot" brands, but generally, I'll keep the old Craftsman and the other generic dark gray pieces I have; we have a lot of history together. Some of them have been to places like the Lumberton, NC, UM Community Center, and an ASP project in Elizabethton, TN, and a little town near New Orleans where we helped rebuild a woman's house that had been flooded by Hurricane Katrina a dozen years ago. I used them to build our children's hanging cradle from some pine planks; they helped fashion a wall cupboard to "go around" a Depression-era mirror that a neighbor had put out as trash 35 years ago; they have been used to repair - and occasionally improve - chairs, tables, and a range of household items from bookshelves and bed frames.
Maybe you have a working piece or two like that - mom's favorite cooking utensil, dad's favorite chair, grandma's best scissors, uncle's watch, or the grandchildren's latest bit of "refrigerator art." Those things are what a mentor of mine used to call "memory hooks," meaning that they are the tangible places where we "hang" our memories - good, not-so-good, and otherwise.
In the life of church, there are a great many of those "memory hooks;" we tend to call them "sacraments," saying that they cause us to remember, in heart and mind, what God has done for us that we cannot do for ourselves. Take baptism, for instance; its "ordinary water" reminds us that God's love is for us, and that it's quite un-earned, un-deserved, and even un-expected. The water, as plain and everyday as can be imagined, is a sign of God's grace and love... and every time we see and touch - and are touched by it - we are invited to remember this extraordinary mystery. Now some of that memory resides in our minds as cognitive memories, and some of it has taken up places in our hearts as attitudes and hopes and regrets and experiences of love and acceptance.
The other sacrament (aka, "sacred moment") which we hold in common with nearly all other Christian traditions is that of Communion - aka, Eucharist, the Lord's Supper... but never "the Last Supper" (since that is the name of a famous painting by da Vinci! - but not the last meal Jesus ever shared with the 12). In the concluding scene of "Places in the Heart" (a movie from a couple of decades ago with Sally Fields and Danny Glover), they are gathering together in the little town's church to receive the elements of the Lord's Supper, and as the camera looks around the table, there are a great many folks there, some of them living and others who have "passed on into Glory" during the movie. They are all present in the way that the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews says - "...surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses..." In some way or another, nearly every time I've come to the Lord's Table, I've had that sense that there are others there - unseen, but present nonetheless. Just like with Grandpa's hammer and tin snips, Dad's shears and hand plane, or any of the other tangible reminders, in the mystery of the moment, loved ones are invoked and known to be present in the "here and now."
In a few weeks, starting in early September, I want to invite you to join with me in gathering 'round the Lord's Table on every Sunday morning, during the 8:45 a.m. Worship Service. It is, I believe, a way that the church can both remember and hope simultaneously. John Wesley, our spiritual forebearer, advocated "frequent" and even "constant" communion among "the people called Methodist.” He, himself, received the gifts from the Lord's Table weekly, if not daily, and always in the company of other Christians. First and foremost, it is a sign of our identity - we belong to the company of those who gather with Christ, not because we've earned the right to be in His presence, but because He's invited us to come and share with Him at the table.... a "foretaste" of the Kingdom of God. Then, I want to invite you to be a part of the weekly observance of the Lord's Supper as a way of taking up what retired UM Bishop Tim Whitaker recently called a "sign of the Church's presence with Christ in the midst of the world." It is one way in which we people of faith say irreducibly that Christ is present with us "in the breaking of bread" and "drinking of the cup."
Now, over the next several weeks, I want to invite you to be in prayerful consideration of the meaning of this coming enhancement in our early service's life. I'll be introducing it as "normative" for our life together, and inviting all the members of our congregation to come and share at the Lord's Table every Sunday in the 8:45 AM Blended Worship Service. I will be speaking to concerns you may have, including the length of the service, the means of distribution we will employ, and the motivation for taking this step toward "more frequent communion" in the United Methodist Church/tradition.
If you have questions that I may be able to address, I hope you'll contact me, either by cell phone (571-239-3529) or e-mail (email@example.com). Take a while to read and prayerfully consider each of the gospel accounts of the first Lord's Supper, as well as Paul's guidance to the Corinthian Christians. There are also a number of excellent texts and resources that you may find helpful, too, and I'll be glad to share them with you as we begin this new practice together.
Grace to you, and peace,
Jim Earley, Pastor