Sunday, December 30, 2012

Year-end pondering

At year's end, or New Year's, it seems as though one should stop and reflect on the year that is passing and consider what one hopes to accomplish in the year ahead. I find myself like Mary Bennet in Pride and Prejudice when her father asks her opinion:

Mary wished to say something very sensible, but knew not how.

I went to church this evening, and we had a most suitable service. We celebrated communion, and because it was an evening service it was "old style" communion—the way they always were when I was growing up. The elders handed the trays of small squares of bread to those at the ends of the pew and we took one and handed the tray to the next person. We all held our piece of bread until everyone was served and the pastor served the elders, then the pastor said, "Take, eat, remember and believe that the body of Christ was broken for the complete forgiveness of all your sins." Then we did the same with the trays of small glasses of grape juice, and the pastor said, "Take, drink, remember and believe that the blood of Christ was poured out for the complete forgiveness of your sins." They used to say "remission" rather than "forgiveness."

I have been in churches where you can choose either grape juice or wine—grape juice for those who find wine a stumbling block—but most CRCs I've been to just use juice. We are not a "dry" denomination. We do not believe that the consumption of alcohol is wrong or sinful, but I think there is a feeling that if any recovering alcoholic is in the congregation, we don't want that person either to refrain from receiving communion or take the wine but then be led by that small experience back into their old ways. I think wine is would be more correct, but I understand why we use juice instead. The only problem I have with it is if the pastor administering communion refers to it as "juice." I find that distracting. If it must be juice, it must be, but don't call attention to the substitution. Any minister can avoid the issue just by saying "the cup" without specifying what is in it. That's the wording of the biblical passages about the Last Supper and the Lord's Supper anyway.

The text for our sermon was Ecclesiastes 3:1-15, also very suitable for year-end reflection. The gist of the sermon was that good and bad things happen and we don't understand why but God is in charge. Good to remember.

Our pastor also read a list of all the deaths and births that occurred in our congregation in 2012. In my extended family, I lost two uncles this year, one in April and one just a couple days ago.  They were both good, kind, dear men, faithful and loving husbands and fathers. Tomorrow is the funeral of the uncle who just died three days ago. My cousin who is his son was blessed with a baby daughter this year, so there too we have the coming and the going: A time to be born and a time to die, as this evening's text had it. If I am granted a normal life span, say 70 or 80 years (as Psalm 90 would have it), then I am more than half-way between those two times, closer to the end than the beginning.

I once had a good Dutch Christian Reformed pastor who mentioned that in his youth they always read Psalm 90 at the New Year. I suggested that to my parents once, but my dad was not into it. He didn't care to dwell on the brevity of life while celebrating. Although that's part of what makes celebration precious. As in Keats' Ode on Melancholy:

She dwells with Beauty—Beauty that must die;
And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:
Ay, in the very temple of Delight
Veil'd Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
Can burst Joy's grape against his palate fine;
His soul shall taste the sadness of her might,
And be among her cloudy trophies hung. 

Keats was very mindful of the brevity of life, since his brothers died of TB ("consumption") at a young age, and he himself died of it at age 26. It's actually quite amazing that he wrote so many masterpieces in such a short life.

Although I haven't actually talked to them about it, I do expect that I'll spend New Year's Eve at my parents' place with them. I ordered olie bollen, a traditional Dutch New Year's treat, and a stick of banket to bring along. My order is at the Lynden Dutch Bakery, which turns out wonderful food. It's so nice to be able to just order these treats. I would certainly never make olie bollen, which requires a deep fryer, and, although when I was younger I did make banket a couple times, I would really rather buy it than bake it. Sadly many people live in towns where you can't buy these because there is no Dutch bakery. Such deprivation.

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