This past St. Patrick’s Day was another reminder of how much I wish I were Irish. I dream of going to Ireland and encountering something out of The Quiet Man. In it you can see John Wayne receiving a blessing as the men raise a glass, saying, “The men of Inishfree bid you welcome home.” I want to be going home to Inishfree. I want to find some small pub, where there are no T.V.’s and folks are sitting telling grand stories and singing some beautiful, sweeping ballad, ballads like the one I am pulling up for you now, it’s called “The Parting Glass.”
Of all the money that e'er I spent
I've spent it in good company
So fill to me the parting glass
Good night and joy be with you all
Oh, all the comrades that e'er I had
They're sorry for my going away
But since it falls unto my lot
That I should rise and you should not
I'll gently rise and softly call
Good night and joy be with you all
Is it any wonder that I should think on this ballad this day? We part with the Botts - this is their last Sunday with us before going to upstate NY, retiring in style closer to their grandchildren. We lift this particular parting glass, and it does not feel unlike another parting glass raised, which we celebrate each first week of the month during communion. Thankfully, it’s not quite as drastic as Christ going off to his trial and death - that for which we prepare ourselves this season of Lent. But what is death, if not another good-bye for now? And often when we think of the cup raised - in our passage today, the cup of which Christ asks if the sons of Zeebedee will drink - often we think of drinking from the cup of suffering.
There is that element of goodbye. There is that sorrow that is part of communion. It is the same sorrow that is part of any relationship, which is always destined for some good-bye, at some point. That’s part of what we accept when we accept the cup of relationship, that there will be moments of intense sadness wrapped up in goodbyes. And, in what feels so unfair, the more love there is, the more intensely we feel the sorrow.
On the Road by Jack Kerouac muses, “What is that feeling when you're driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? - it's the too-huge world vaulting us, and it's good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.” We lean forward to the next crazy venture, knowing that the cup, does also offer joy, joy not just in the loving, but also in the after. In the after of the sorrow, in the incorporation of the loving, in the full integration of the ones from whom we part and from which all else in us goes on. When we raise the cup together we say, “This is the cup of blessing, which we bless.” It doesn’t matter that we don’t remember every little bit, every last detail. Bill and Carol have so influenced and imbibed this home with their spirits, that any time any of us in this place find it available to be gracious and affirming and oh-so-smart, it is available because they have affected us. They are such a part of us that we reflect them reflexively, just out of instinct.
A wise man once said, “Memories become stories, when we forget them, and maybe some of them even become songs.” We all of us have carved our histories into this world, and we as Christians have intentionally carved our lives of service, that our memories may become part of the great gospel story, the one where raising a cup to say goodbye, is both a cup of sorrow and of joyous blessing. We can always join together in this story, regardless of how far we go, we can always meet in the gospel story of raising the cup together.
This same gospel story of Christ has one other highlight, so big that it also joins us beyond all time and space! It is the sacrament of our baptisms, of coming to the river to be joined in spirit, to have our belonging sealed. Here at the riverside we lay down our burdens and allow ourselves to be swept up into the flow of the God’s overwhelming love for each of us. Gathering at the river, we are home.
Let us close our eyes. Imagine we are by the river together. We each have a cup. Let’s dip it into the water and come up with the glass full to raise to the Botts- the parting glass. It is one of sorrow, but it is also a cup of joy that we drink. We drink to you, Carol and Bill - to your faithfulness defined by a courage that runs deep in defiance of despair, despite all suffering. In joy we hold you in our hearts and minds - we remember two who are incredibly affirming and gracious, with an intellect only outshone by the wisdom demonstrated in discerning its use. To you! May we know that we always have this place by the river, may we remember that we are always joined in the Spirit and share our home in Christ. Amen.
Photo by Yutacar on Unsplash