As we’ve been using the Bible’s tree stories to talk about how beauty and adversity can coexist, Sunday, David Howlett told me a story about a tree from his younger pastoring days. He had an older parishioner who lived in the same house all his life. He was born there and he died there. One day David was going to visit him and while he was waiting he noticed a sorry looking tree in the man’s yard. He told me that it was one of the ugliest trees he’s ever seen. When the man came out, he noticed that David was looking at the tree. Then he told him about the tree. He said, “That tree has had a hard life. The ice storm of 2007 took off those limbs. The burn marks on the side are from a lightning bolt in 1970, the split in the tree happened during the tornado in 1954.” And on he went with story after story about the scars on the tree. He knew that tree very well. After David heard the stories it no longer looked like a sorry old tree. Knowing the stories transformed it into something interesting and almost sacred. He finished the story with a quotation from Rev. Steve Cox, “Anything can become holy if it has a story.”
As I think about how story transforms ordinary things into something holy, I’m reminded of my grandmother’s table. When all the aunts, uncles, and cousins would get together it would be at my grandparent’s house in Louisville, KY. When the family gathered, all four of the leaves would get added to the table. It was the table for all the Thanksgiving dinners and all the other times when everyone was together. That table is older than me, and when I was young I thought it was the biggest table in the world.
My grandparents are both dead now and their table is at my house. It is the place where my children and grandchildren gather for Thanksgiving and all the other times when we are together. Every time I change the table cloth I see the table’s scars. The wood is cracked, the finish is worn in places, there’s a ring where someone put a hot pan on it, it has multiple little circles from sweating drink glasses, and numerous other scars. Anyone who saw this table without a table cloth on it would think to themselves, “That’s a sorry looking table. It belongs in the garage or in the basement.” If I didn’t know the history of that table I would think the same thing. But, when I see the scars it reminds me of happy times. Those are the well-earned scars that come with generations of a family’s love. That table is one of the most sacramental things in my house.
In the sanctuary we have a communion table. There are plenty of scars under that table cloth. It was refinished a few years ago and steel cables were added to keep it from breaking in half. Even though it’s been repaired and refinished the scars are still visible. Each one of them tells the story of candle wax dripping from a Good Friday service, or water stains from an Easter lily, or wear marks from where the offering plates are placed every Sunday.
In any other setting that table wouldn’t be worth much. But in our sanctuary it is one of the most sacred things that we have. Not only is it the setting for the story of Jesus’ body and blood given for us, it is also the setting of the story of multiple generations of families who have been receiving Holy Communion from that table for over 50 years. Those scars are the well-earned scars that come with generations of loving families gathered at Christ’s table. Those scars tell the beautiful story of the faithfulness of this congregation of Christ’s holy church. “Anything can become holy if it has a story.”
P.S. On Monday – Wednesday of next week (July 26-28) weather permitting, we will be having the top parking lot sealed and striped. During this time there will be no access to the church from 39th St. To access the church you will need to enter from Pope Ave and enter through The Place.