Ecclesiasticus 44:1-10; Ps. 149; Rev. 7:2-4, 9-17; Matt. 5:1-12
In summertime the first thing to catch your eye as you drive up toward the building are the gardens. They are lush and glorious, offering up brilliant colors and delicate scents to the senses, and adding texture to the otherwise flat, drab, shabby brick and cement facade - a scullery girl transformed into Cinderella . . . at least from May through September.
The gardens are a gift from an earlier day, from someone who cared: cared about the beauty of nature, and cared about the residents of the building. Cared enough to create all this glory, so that the people inside would be up-lifted by the beauty of the flowers - each in their season.
But today the gardens are dormant: Prepared for their winter sleep, just like the people inside also are preparing for a long sleep in the winter of their years.
As I enter the front doors, the congregation is gathering as they head toward the common room. Some ambulate on their own, some with the help of a cane or walker. Others propel themselves in wheel chairs. It can often resemble a bumper car arcade at the carnival, as the wheelchairs encounter one another at the intersection of A, B, and C wings. Aides come to the rescue whenever one wheelchair just won't yield to another, causing a traffic jam, and not a little expletive laden, geriatric road rage!
The last to arrive are those who either no longer have the strength to propel themselves, or have lost the ability to decide what they will do today . . . or any day. They come in rolling bed chairs, catheter and oxygen tubes protruding. Alzheimer's and strokes, accidents and surgeries, and just plain old age, have taken their toll on mind and body. But loving staff and volunteers are diligent in bringing these people along as well, to be a part of our heavenly court.
It's not much of a court, really. There's a big screen television on one end, which always seems to be tuned to the Animal Planet, or showing a rerun of The Sound of Music. At the opposite end is an upright piano, which is used for the occasional hymn sing. In between are a jumble of tables and chairs. Shelves filled with craft materials, books and out-dated magazines line the wall. A refreshment counter for making coffee, tea and the now and then special treat of ice cream sodas, fills yet another. In the middle of the floor is a rolling wooden altar which one of the staff has placed there and set with a purple altar cloth. The staff seldom gets the liturgical color code correct. But everything they do is done in love, and since I love the color purple, it's just fine by me.
"Hello friends" I say loudly. Speaking loudly is an essential quality in this place. "Hello reverend - pastor - Father - Peter" is the cacophonous reply. This is an eclectic mix of folks when it comes to religious background, and their responses reflect their traditions.
I walk through the room to greet the congregation.
First Susan. In her mid forties's, Susan, can only say the word "hey", which she happily repeats over and over when she sees someone she likes. "Hey, hey, hey!" Susan is always wearing strands of Mardi Gras beads - an adornment which proclaims a joyful "hey" as well. She takes my hand and kisses it- she does this all the time. I tell her she makes me feel like the Pope and she laughs.
John and his wife Ellen sit in the back. John is the resident and has severe Alzheimer's. Ellen visits every day and would live at the nursing to be with her husband, 24/7 if the rules permitted it. Her devotion toward John is profound and touching. They are still very much in love. There is a quiet dignity about Ellen, as she negotiates John's wheel chair - going from one activity to another. I have never seen her without a smile on her face, as she and John live their days together in this community.
One of the matriarchs, ninety-two year old Arlene, pipes up and asks me what hymns we will be singing today? Arlene is feeble in body, but her mind is sharp as a tack. She knows every hymn in our large print hymnals, and she can't stand the CD's that accompany them. "They sing way to slow and the music is corny!" she tells all the chaplains. "Well, Arlene what would you like to sing today?" I ask her, knowing full well that if I want to stay in her good graces, we had better sing either Blessed Assurance, Church in the Wildwood, or Rock of Ages at every worship service. This in one Episcopalian who has come to know the core Baptist repertoire quickly!
Mountain View is the county nursing home here in Carroll County, the poorest county of New Hampshire. Most of the residents here have lived meager lives. By the standards of the world they have left little in their wake to be remembered by. And the reality is that if it were up to the world, many of the people here would perish as if they had not lived, and would become as those not born.
But fortunately this is not a place that lives by the worlds standards. There are godly people here.
The staff and volunteers incarnate godliness, as they offer the same tender care for the residents, as that anonymous person who created the beautiful gardens in the front of the building.
And the residents? Well, they are godly folks as well. They are not famous, or rich. Little of what they did earlier in life, or certainly do now, is measurable, or of great value according to the worlds standards. Theirs' were simple lives. They did honest, hard, work. Raised families, loved their children. Went to church. They quarreled and did sinful things. They loved their country and served it. They tried to live moral and decent lives, as best they knew how. Sometimes they succeeded, and sometimes they failed. War, depression, recession, poverty, disease , the passage of time, and the loss of spouses, family and friends, assured that they all experienced times of tribulation. Like all people they can be odd and quirky, and because of that they are lovely.
For me these folks are people worthy of praise and imitation. God will not - and in fact has not - forgotten them, even though most of the rest of the world has. And there is great hope in that for all us.
In the book of Revelation, John of Patmos saw the heavenly court and all the throngs gathered around the throne of God from every family, language, nation, and tribe. John came to realize that these were the people on earth who had undergone great tribulations, come through them, and who had been cleansed in the blood of Jesus, the Lamb. And now they had gathered around the throne to offer praise and thanksgiving, because God cared for them and had wiped every tear of pain from their eyes.
As I unpack my communion kit -corporeal, purificator, chalice, paten, wafers, a little port and a lot of water - Marty, the aide from the activities department hands out the hymnals. "What's the sermon about Fr. Pete? Which hymns shall we sing today?" she asks me.
I look around the room at the congregation. They appear to me to be robed in white, and their faces are eager to sing praise and thanksgiving to God in our little court of heaven.
"Saints, Marty." I reply. "Today's sermon is about saints."Back to the top