advent sanctuary photo

Each year, for the past few years, I invite people from the church who have had a particularly rough year to attend an organ recital and luncheon as my guests. It is a way of letting them know that their pain and suffering is not unnoticed or dismissed.

After a 30 minute recital, we adjourn to our Reception Room with its 30 foot, vaulted ceilings, massive stained glass windows, hand-built balcony and towering Christmas tree. It is a simple, yet glorious luncheon of five or six soups, homemade by five or six loving people. It is served with bread, salad, a variety of desserts, coffee, tea and water. The event, which we keep telling people about (but to little avail) is a respite from the lunacy and labor of Advent and Christmas time. It is a brief hour or so of suspended concern where hurry is unknown; where worry is a foreign currency; where the the value of the music and the meal massively outstrips the cost; and where leftover soups are divvied-up among those eager to savor the soups for supper.

The event is held on two consecutive Wednesdays during Advent. One couple, who had been invited as guests, declined, citing the husband not feeling well. They asked if they could move the invitation to the following Wednesday of the recital and soup series. They were told that of course they could.

The following Wednesday, I hurriedly arrived at the recital and luncheon just ten minutes before it began. I had been at a cemetery where I had presided at the graveside internment service of the aforementioned husband. They were supposed to be eating soup and listening to a holiday organ recital. But we had lowered him into the ground not a half an hour earlier as his widow was in the loving company of a large and close-knit family.

This too is Christmas. It is dark by 4:30 in the afternoon in December in New York. The leaves have fallen from the trees. Sirens wail in the night. The presents this man purchased for his family are still waiting to be unwrapped by their recipients on Christmas morn. This could seem to some like a cruel and bitter fate. But…

A present he gave to me is being unwrapped right now in your presence. It is the gift of knowing that no gift is small or insignificant: the gift of a free bowl of soup to one who is not feeling well; the gift of acknowledging someone’s difficulty keeping pace with the world; the gift of sharing and caring beyond your realm of comfort and familiarity; the gift of the chorus of soup spoons clanging against porcelain bowls in a glorious and vaulted cathedral of love, acceptance and delight.

Thank you for this gift. May you rest in peace. And thank you for this piece of peace that, due to you, now rests in me.

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