Yesterday, January 6, was the feast of Epiphany. At my church, we celebrated with an evening of pot luck dining then a Eucharist service. For this same celebration last year, my family and I had stumbled upon this event, and thoroughly enjoyed it (as I wrote last year). This year, we had planned to be there. Before we began dining, our Rector brought in some traditional King Cakes, these ones were from New Orleans–brioche filled with a fruity tasting custard. “This meal has to start with dessert,” she told us. We had to be careful, though, because in each cake was hidden a miniature statue of Jesus. Whoever found them would be ‘king’ for the next hour, until the service began. I just happened to be by the table on which the cakes were laid, so sliced them and served those who came up. Imagine my surprise when I sat down and started my own meal, then found my mouth having to deal with a model of a baby Jesus.
We proceeded to the service. At the start of her sermon, the Rector asked “When was the last time you were truly overjoyed?”. I muttered to my daughter, sitting beside me, “About an hour ago.” The Rector then told us how her father would tell the story of what he did when she was born. He had been so overjoyed that we went to buy cigars, stood on the street corner and handed them out to passers-by. Clearly, a very happy man.
My joy came from something seemingly more mundane–a mere unexpected appearance, no wonderous manifestation that would have been fitting for the day.
My friend, who is living in a hospice (about whom I wrote last month), came to church last night to join in the feast. At about 2pm, I had paid her a surprise visit, in part to wish her Happy New Year, but also to see if she would be interested in going to the service and needed a ride. When I arrived, her room was in almost total darkness, and she was under the bed covers. She mumbled that she had had three days of debilitating migraines. She told me that she had called for a nurse, but no one had come by. I went to the nurses’ station and relayed her request. Within minutes, a nurse came by with some medication. My friend had asked me to leave my phone number on a piece of paper in case she felt better and needed that ride. I left, wishing her a better afternoon, and thinking what it shame it was be that she would miss the evening events.
At around 5.15pm, she called me. “Can you come and pick me up?” I replied that my daughter and I had just arrived at church–the events were due to start at 5.30. “But, can you turn around and pick me up?” I agreed, and asked a fellow parishioner to keep an eye on my daughter, while I made the quick round trip; the hospice was only about 1 1/2 miles away. When my friend arrived in the lobby of the hospice, she was dressed elegantly as ever, and her face was radiant. She speedily wheeled her walker to my car, folded it, and levered herself into the front seat. “I have my disabled person tag, if that will help with parking,” she told me. I smiled. She started to tell me a story about a fellow university student–who died in tragic circumstances–and her nurse, who used to be a fellow parishioner. Her mind was as clear as it could be, with its great long-term memory recall but short-term memory lapses.
My friend was not the reason why anyone came to have dinner and worship. She got many hearty greetings and had some good conversations. However, I suspect that while we were focused on another difficult journey, few understood the hard journey she had made that afternoon.