I grew up with what is, as far as I can tell, a rarity in today’s culture. In the kitchen of my childhood there was actually a dinner bell that hung on the wall. While it wasn’t always employed I’ll never forget the words painted on the wooden board on which the bell was suspended:
And eat we did, seated together, at the kitchen table and often in the formal dining room. If the TV happened to be on in the family room at dinner time it was turned off. Nobody sat down before my mother did, who would always say from the kitchen as she parceled portions onto plates, “Oh, go ahead and sit.” My Dad would be standing faithfully behind his chair. If the phone rang while we were at the table it wasn’t answered. And no matter what we ate my Dad’s plate always looked the most appetizing to me – there was something about the way he applied the salt and pepper that always made his food look better than mine. “My compliments to the chef” he’d often say to my Mom as he folded a napkin before a cup of coffee.
In our house dinner included conversation. How was school? What’s happening in the neighborhood? With your friends? Nobody’s plate was cleared until after everyone was finished. And that’s when we’d start wondering how much longer it would be. The dishes would be cleared and my mom would serve herself and my dad a cup of Folgers instant coffee – I can hear spoons clinking on china cups now. We’d finish up whatever conversation had been taking place and then with our napkins folded on the table in front of us, at the right time, after things got quiet, one of us (I’m the youngest of six) would say, “may I be excused?” Unless there was some lingering issue we were dismissed with the words: “Yes, you may be excused.”
As I’ve shared with some of my colleagues at work, I’ve been perplexed as of late as to why I’ve been thinking, so much more than usual, about my parents. In a bible study on Thursday of this week I finally realized why. At St. Alban’s, in contrast to my former parish – whose constituency was incredibly “young” – nearly every day I see vibrant, engaged and committed members of the parish who, thanks be to God, are older than my parents (especially my Dad) ever got to be. I’ve discovered a new sadness as I miss my parents but a happiness in seeing so many in our midst who are blessed with relative health and critically involved in the life and faith of their church home – what a blessing this is.
My parents too, were faithful and involved Christians – one of the reasons my sister discovered my mother had died was because she didn’t show up for work at the food bank one day and somebody called. On a Sunday recently I was brought to tears in worship remembering how fine a lector my Dad was (he also played the lead in many of Wheaton Drama Club’s finest shows like The Music Man and South Pacific). Despite the relative brevity of their latter years I find great comfort in the faith they both possessed until they died. The inscription on my Mom’s side of the double-sided grave marker for her and My Dad at the Beaufort National cemetery reads, “With John and Christ.”
I’ve rambled a bit here. But its been a joyful rambling. And today is a day when being excused, or “dismissed,” has special meaning for Christians… Today is the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the day we remember when Simeon, having received a promise to live long enough to see the Lord’s Messiah, is guided by the spirit to the temple whereupon seeing Mary’s child takes Jesus in his arms and proclaims:
Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the
presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel
May each of us, as did John and Frances and Simeon, see God’s salvation and be dismissed in God’s peace.