A theme of love and serving.

This sign on the wall in our church kitchen shows evidence of its location above the coffee maker. I was looking at it as though for the first time this morning as I prepared the agape meal at church. It was my fourth time cooking for 100-120 people; I don’t know exactly how many ate today, but the important thing is we didn’t run out of food. 🙂

I went back and forth from the kitchen to the church as needed to put things in the oven to warm, and to worship. Before Divine Liturgy there was a glorious baptism, and I was surprised to miss the actual immersion of the baby, but I came in to the heady scent of Holy Chrism as he was being lifted out of the font, which in an Orthodox baptism is no more than halfway through, so there was plenty of praying left to do, and rejoicing in the love and joy that filled the place.

The next time I had to leave and come back, I entered when Father Peter was giving the homily. I’d never heard him preach before, and his words were full of warm encouragement. Near the end he recited the whole poem below, with a fitting and enlivening amount of expression.

It was a great honor to be the one serving and feeding my fellow worshipers a few minutes later. All week I’ve been grousing and anxious about the upcoming event, even though I had planned and organized well and had young and competent helpers, an easy menu, etc. As has been the case before, I began to relax on Saturday when we did the first steps of cooking. I was so grateful for my assistants who are my friends and love me.

Today, even more people helped, were thankful, told me that they loved the food — all the hugs and kind words I could want, to make me feel what a gift it is to be part of this parish and of Christ’s Church, and to work with people on a worthy project.

When I heard Herbert’s poem, I immediately thought, “I must share that on my blog!” I forgot to take any pictures of the food to share, but I think you can envision a hefty chunk of cheesy polenta with a scoop of the meatiest possible red sauce ladled over, plus a dollop of pesto on top. Mixed greens on the side, and ice cream for dessert. I might do this same menu again sometime, it was so relatively easy and successful.

For the good of our souls, it was not worth much, though, compared to the Love that Father Peter talked about, and George Herbert sang of, and which we had tasted in the Holy Mysteries that morning.

But it was an echo and a reminder, and gave us sustenance so that we could sit around basking in our family happiness for a while. “O taste and see that the LORD is good!”

LOVE

Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
                              Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
                             From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
                             If I lacked any thing.
A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
                             Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
                             I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
                             Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
                             Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
                             My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
                             So I did sit and eat.

–George Herbert

8 thoughts on “A theme of love and serving.

    1. Lisa, I went by the serving sizes I read about online and on the bag. Both times I actually had polenta left over… I wish I had taken a picture. A pot of seven gallons or so of polenta thickening up is a pretty sight. 🙂

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  1. I simply cannot picture you grousing. But it does encourage me to think that you sometimes do. This was a good look into your day and what you gave and what you were given. And the poem that I only remembered tiny bits of that tells of Love that bore the blame.

    So many of your posts would be lovely made into a daily book of meditations.

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  2. I love Herbert – how different he is, and how arresting his poetic choices! I love your description of your church worship and meal. I disagree with only one thing. You said that the food you prepared, and that your brothers and sisters ate together in the Lord’s house, was “not worth much … compared” with all else that happened that day.

    You know that eating with each other, and eating before the Lord, is truly a sacred thing. We will eat just like that on the New Earth together for eternity, and our eating here is a holy copy of those meals. You and I will eat together – isn’t that wonderful? Every time you cook for them, you are doing an eternal act. It is so important. When Moses and the elders climbed the mountain there are many things they might have done – washings, offerings, singing, sermons, etc. But no — they ate a meal. Anyway, just a thought. As your sign says, it is the best work of all.

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    1. Mary Kathryn, Perhaps I was not careful enough with my words, but I did not mean to compare our agape meal with “all else that happened that day,” but with the Eucharistic meal, which is the Life of Christ, His body and blood, food that no earthly food can compare to. If one thinks of the elements of Communion merely as symbols for things that aren’t present, the tasty food we put in our mouths after church would seem more real. In the Orthodox understanding, the Divine Liturgy is not only Eucharistic but eschatological, in that we celebrate with Christ in His Kingdom, which is yet to come but comes down to us and is present, each time we partake.

      Fr. Stephen Freeman in an older blog post Between Christmas and… writes about this presence of the Kingdom:
      ‘St. John Chrysostom, in his eucharistic prayer, gives thanks for the Second Coming of Christ in the past tense – not that he is saying that the Second Coming has already occurred in history – but that the Eucharistic celebration stands within the Kingdom of God, such that the Second Coming can be described in the past tense. The Eucharist is the “Marriage Feast of the Lamb,” the “Banquet at the End of the Age.”’

      When I wrote about the relative worthlessness of earthly food for “the good of our souls,” I was thinking also about the tradition of fasting, which prepares us for partaking in the Eucharist and makes that and other feasts more joyous. Once our rector commented about two holy fathers, “They acquired hunger the way we acquire food.” This asceticism is not a virtue! It is not a “good work” that earns points. It is just a sort of spiritual training that holier people than I have practiced through the ages, with the understanding that our souls and bodies are connected, and it truly does make a difference whether you come to prayer or the Communion table with a full stomach or empty.

      I suspect that in the Kingdom to come, if our feasting resembles anything in our earthly life, it will feel more like Holy Communion than like the church supper after. In any case, it will be the definition of Feast. I know we agree on that.

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