Sig was a completely ordinary man. I met him at St. Benedict’s after he and his wife transferred to the parish. He was in bad health, having had two major heart surgeries in past years, but he was “spry,” as we might say. He worked a bit, but mainly stayed home. He was an artist, specializing in wonderful oils… still-lifes, portraits, landscapes. He was a special person—still is—to me, even though it has been three years since his death.
In one of our visits, I remember sitting in his house, drinking a bit of coffee and eating cookies. He loved to share stories about his life, growing up pretty much alone after his parents died. He landed in the upper Midwest, and got a job at Abercrombie, back when it was more of an outdoor store. They sold guns there, and Sig loved to sell rifles. One day a man came in looking for rifles, and he saw Sig there, working, like any other day, cleaning the barrels. Sig had a little, ordinary tool that was a long wire with a little brush on the end. Sig would take this little brush and push it into the barrel, and twist it a bit. It would clean out the barrel. Sig said he had no idea how many times he had done this…it was such a common things to do…monotonous even.
He saw the man standing there, and asked him if he wanted to look at a certain firearm. Sig said it was strange when the man said, no, that he would like to see the little, ordinary tool that Sig had. Sig gave it to him, and the man held it in his hand, twisting it around and looking intently.
He asked Sig if he could buy a few of them. Sig thought that was strange to want to buy some ordinary little wire tool used to clean out guns. Buy hey, he thought, why not. He made up a price for them and sold the man a few.
The man stayed in touch with Sig, telling him later that that moment, seeing Sig with that ordinary barrel cleaning tool, was the moment that inspired him to develop the modern angioplasty procedure.
Years later, when I knew Sig, when he needed yet another heart surgery, I went in his hospital room to find a large group of cardiovascular doctors and nurses standing there. They were honored to meet this man whose simple, ordinary act had, somehow, inspired the development of an invaluable medical procedure that has saved the lives of who knows how many people.
Just do take it one step further, please raise your hand if you or someone you loved has had an angioplasty procedure done.
Simple, ordinary moments happen all the time, yet they are easy to undervalue.
The disciples had a difficult time coming to grips with the reality of Jesus being raised from the dead. In today’s text, we find folks once more gathered when Jesus appears and tells them not to be afraid. He tells them to look at his hands and his feet, seeking to prove to them that it really was him there in their midst.
And the text describes this wonderfully honest moment when “While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering,” he realizes something more was needed. Isn’t that an honest description of the human condition when we encounter some glimpse of “more” in the midst of the “mundane?” When we experience hope in the face of despair, even…yet, we still have this mixture of “joy” and “disbelieving” and “wonder.” The swirl of the human condition…
To make his point, Jesus does something profound… He asks them for something to eat. “They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.”
Fish. The heavens didn’t open up. All the angels that had appeared at his birth and the couple of “young men in white” who appeared at the tomb…none of that profound divine manifestation occurred to help the disciples realize that their world had been reoriented.
No…it took a piece of fish.
We prefer angels and divine messages, clear signs that are unambiguous and blatent, yet the Gospel tells us that Jesus prefers to use the ordinary. Isn’t that the heart of our Incarnational spirituality? That the ordinary things of life take on extraordinary meaning?
Take a bit of bread and wine, gather together and remember Jesus’ promise to those gathered—and those still gathering, call upon the Spirit, and we are promised that we will have his very Body and Blood with us…to nourish us.
Take a bit of water, gather together and give thanks for God’s persistent presence and deliverance throughout history, and through prayer we baptize someone in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Take a bit of oil, gather at the bedside of an ill friend, join our hearts in prayer, asking the Spirit for comfort and peace, and we share together in a profound moment of unction and grace.
Bread, wine, water, oil, fish…simple, everyday things that take on divine purpose and intent in our lives. “Outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace, given to us by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace” as the Cathechism definition of a sacrament says in our Book of Common Prayer.
Sig was stunned to realize that his simple tool had gone on to save so many lives. We always are surprised when God takes the ordinary things—the tchotchkes—of our existence and transforms them. Through them we gain a glimpse of the fullness of God’s purpose.
The disciples received grace in that moment, as they saw their risen Lord eat a bit of fish. They realized even more that death was not the end of the story.
The text says that Jesus “opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” They were enlightened and transformed, and they realized more of the fullness of things.
The text says that their minds were opened, that things were brought together within their understanding, syniemi, as in synergy, synthesis… there was a bringing together within themselves of this wonderfully human mixture of “joy,” “disbelief,” and “wonder.” And their souls were opened…broadened….deepened…
This is our Easter challenge, my friends: to live lives that are open to seeing the ordinary become transformed into the extraordinary. We are sacramental people, people who look for God to show up in the stuff of life: a nice glass of wine and an unbelievable conversation, perhaps. Or a card from a friend when we’re ill. Or someone holding our hand when they see us in church for the first time after our spouse dies. Or a child coming up to hug our leg after we’ve had one of the most stressful days of our lives.
“They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.”
Fr. Stuart Higginbotham
Easter III, Year B
St. Luke 24:36b-48
April 19, 2015