St. Stephen’s Day

Now during those days [soon after the Resurrection], when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait at tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task….”and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit. (Acts 6:1-3, 5)

On the day after Christmas, we leave behind the stars and angels and get down to brass tacks — or, in this case, to tables, to people needing to be fed, and to a man who will Unknownbecome the first to shed his blood for the new faith. The calendar is insistent: this Birth is not for itself, but for those who need it. It redirects our eyes from Christ’s face to theirs, to the Christ hidden in them. They show us a truth: that Christ calls us to be responsive, that our response to others is holy ground, the place of our salvation.

Today, I share with you from Nora Gallagher’s book, Things Seen and Unseen:

“At the soup kitchen just before Christmas we serve a meal of turkey, cornbread stuffing, gravy, green beans, and homemade cranberry sauce. I come in late, to serve at the salad table. A man walks across the room toward me and tries to take a salad from our trays. ‘If you want to, you can sit down,’ I say. ‘We’ll serve you.’

‘You’ll serve me?’

‘Yes.’

‘A sit-down meal,’ he says, shaking his head in disbelief. ‘A sit-down meal.’

I scoop out salad onto plates and the servers take them away. It has a nice routine to it; I can see the whole room. Almost all the tables are filled with me, but near me is a table of Spanish-speaking women and children. I scoop the salad, put it on a plate, put the plate on a tray. At one point, I turn from the salad to face the room. It happens without warning, just as I turn. I see the people in the room in slow motion, as if they are moving through molasses. Their faces are shining. A middle-aged woman walks across the room holding in front of her a plate piled with food; she smiles at the man she is about to serve. Between them, for a second, I see a cord drawn taut, a connection of light. Her face is lit up. She places the food in front of him, sways slightly, as if she were on board a ship, then rights herself and walks away. One of the women with the children looks up. Our eyes meet.  She points at her daughter, who is eating a huge plate of turkey and stuffing, and we both laugh.

We prepare by this, by falling down before each other. ‘What a waste it is to be imagessurrounded by heaven, by a sky ‘made white with angels’ wings, and to be unaware of it,’ writes Esther de Waal. ‘Perhaps the first step is that we really should want to unearth God in our midst…[to] let the mundane become the edge of glory, and find the extraordinary in the ordinary.’ To find not perfection, but possibility.”

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