The Peura Family
He grasped it in his hands. With authority, yet lovingly too, his fingers encircled the cup as he held it out for all to see. With determination but also sensitivity. With anticipation and expectation but also with sorrow, for he knew his words would impact with might on the people gathered there that morning.
As he told the story of the stole his mother had given him, and how his pastor and bishop had placed it around his neck during his ordination thirty four years ago, we knew what was coming next. Had we not received a letter containing the news just yesterday? But perhaps we were too involved with our own feelings of sorrow and fear of floundering to understand what he was really saying. All we could hear was that our pastor would be retiring soon - too soon. That he would be leaving us. Not moving away, but searching for a new worshiping community right here where we, all of us, live.
It was too much to hear all at once. Too much to swallow whole. The lump that formed in our throats grew bigger and bigger until it threatened to push tears from our eyes. And if the truth be told, our tears flowed anyway, for we felt the impending loss while he was standing right there in our midst, sharing this life-changing decision with his congregation.
And yet, there was more, for he spoke of his mentor, Henri Nouwen, saying that the Eucharistic cup which he had been privileged to fill and raise to our lips was a cup of sorrow, yes, but a cup of joy and blessing, too, for it would give us new opportunities which he could no longer provide.
But we couldn't grasp his meaning, though we tried. We were too full of ourselves even to take a quick glimpse into that pottery cup he held out to us. A chalice, he called it. A cup of blessing, he said. But that morning we could only concentrate on our loss. We felt abandoned. Left to flounder. Lost at sea in a ship threatening to sink.
But do we dare look closely, as he asked, into that cup from which we corporately, as a people of God, drink regularly? Will we allow ourselves the luxury of feeling deeply and expressing to each other all the sorrow this change causes us? Will we look at the dregs in the bottom of the cup and find that they can be tasted, swallowed and even savored? And can we believe that out of these bitter dregs grace will abound and even flow again in wild abundance?
Perhaps some of us will abandon what we deem a sinking ship. Others will look at change as the opportunity to grow, setting sail in directions we have not yet considered. Some may sit back with a "wait and see" attitude, hoping not to lose what has become uniquely ours. Perhaps we are more than sad. Perhaps some of us are, after all, angry and feeling betrayed. But maybe we are afraid to speak these things aloud, thinking that it is not fair that a man so young should do the very thing that we wish we could do if we had but half a chance. This is, after all, the man who knows our stories and to whom we have entrusted secrets from our hearts. And like the young child in us who was certain that our beloved first grade teacher had no life apart from teaching us (and also probably lived in the schoolhouse waiting for our return the next day), we wonder what we will do when our friend, our mentor and our pastor leaves us.
But there is that cup. Again. And it is much more than a cup we sing about only on a Sunday morning. It is the cup that both immerses and permeates our lives. It is the means by which we are altogether held together.
It is grace in his hands.
Can we drink this cup? Can we look deeply enough into it to see beyond the sorrow we experience today to the joy that drinking even its dregs ultimately promises? Can we be honest and trusting and open enough to each other to remember that this cup of corporate sacrifice we share is a cup of blessing, too?
Let us not forget that this christened vessel, "Peace," has but one captain at its helm. And though we can not see him, we can listen for him with open hearts. Although we have become accustomed to seeing him through the eyes of one particular man, we can look within ourselves too, finding him in our depths and in the joys we share together, both. He is here even though we choose to ignore or forget him. He may come in the form of any one of us, even the most grumpy or obstreperous. Or even as the youngest in our midst, teaching us to open his arms and heart to each other in love. To bless us. To listen to our secrets. To help us raise our cups when we are incapable even of holding up our chins.
To help us drink the bittersweet.