Mixing Memory and Desire
Poet T.S. Eliot referred to April as the cruellest month. Sitting at my desk over the past few days, with the sound of the heavy rain pooling in small lakes in our yard and the air’s chill deep in my fingers, I could feel in my bones Eliot’s poetic observation. The next line of Eliot’s poem explains that April is the cruellest month because it mixes memory and desire. Even with the memory of the past warmth of summer and warm intervening “teaser” days, the cold and dark of winter often returns and persists. I feel this tension keenly as a gardener. I want to run my fingers through the warming dirt, tuck tender seedlings into the ground, and sculpt cucumber mounds. That’s coming from my memory of all the cucumbers and peppers we grew and pickled, along with the tomatoes we canned, that brought the warmth of summer into our cold, dark, quarantined winter. That memory mixes with desire, as Eliot tells us.
The bright, fresh flavors of the pickles and tomatoes stir up my desire to come out of our winter quarantine, even as we still shiver in the wet, dark days of lingering cold. I want to be back in my garden, surrounded by fresh lettuce and basil, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, and carrots! But in Newport’s Plant Hardiness Zone 7a, I have to pray my way through this “cruellest month” until the yard’s puddles drain and the ground warms.
Runners from Emmaus
Jesus’ appearance in Luke’s gospel today mixes memory and desire like the flavors of last summer’s tomatoes. To get the context right, we have to remember that, just before today’s story starts, two of the disciples have just walked 7 miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus, talking with a traveler along the way. The traveler explains scripture to them, while their hearts burn as their kindled faith.
When the travelers reach Emmaus, they invite their mystery companion in to dinner with them. Remember the familiar phrase from the Emmaus story: because the day is ending, and evening is at hand. Inside, the mystery traveler takes bread, blesses, breaks, and shares it. Just as everyone in the room instantly realizes that the mystery companion is Jesus himself, he is gone.
What happens next is that the two who walked to Emmaus with Jesus then run the seven miles back to Jerusalem to tell the others the big news. All this takes place just days from the fear and violence of the crucifixion, and they would have still been in the grips of unimaginable grief, dread, and trauma. Back in Jerusalem, they’re breathlessly telling the story of Jesus’ appearance on the road to Emmaus just as Jesus himself somehow enters the room, through the locked doors. They are both startled and amazed, Luke’s gospel tells us.
Startled AND amazed. No kidding! Wouldn’t you be? Think of what they’ve been through over the past weeks — the triumphant walk into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the Last Supper, the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane as Jesus waits for his arrest, and then his torture and crucifixion. In the room, Jesus asks for something to eat, and they give him broiled fish. And he takes and eats it in their presence.
I’ve always been fascinated by this remarkably specific detail of broiled fish. Not bread. Not lamb or pigeon or another small unit of protein more typically handy in Jerusalem for sacrifice or dinner. I think the broiled fish is a resurrection mystery, mixing memory with desire. Jerusalem is at least a four-day walk from the Sea of Galilee, which is the closest place where fish would be plentiful. And there’s not a whole lot of refrigeration in Jerusalem’s Old City even today. So, broiled fish? Really? Like fish that’s roasted fresh — with herbs, all crackling, bubbly, and fragrant — over a fire? Something’s fishy here.
Broiled fish means more. Broiled fish mixes memory with desire, taking them back to the Sea of Galilee, where the ministry started, where Jesus recruited and taught the disciples, and where so many of his signs and miracles occurred. Broiled fish takes them back to the Galilee where they were fishermen who became fishers of men, mixing their memory of healing, feeding, and welcoming the stranger with their desire to find Jesus alive among them again. Broiled fish stokes their desire for wholeness after the fear and dark of the cross and the tomb just like the memory of a summer garden kindles our desire for new life in the wettest, coldest, darkest, cruellest month of April.
Mixing memory and desire points us to new life in the resurrection. We can all join in. It’s cold and wet outside, but Plant Hardiness Zones do not interfere with Emmanuel’s work in nourishing body and spirit! Glenna Randall harvested lettuces Thursday that could win a blue ribbon at the State Fair, delivering them to the MLK Community Center for their Veggie Day program. On Good Friday we received a $1,000 grant from Episcopal Charities NOW for our hydroponics program. We’ll use the money to grow more produce to help MLK feed our neighbors by adding two more hydroponics units, and electrical outlets to support their operation.
We’re also renovating the church kitchen to comply with RIDOH requirements for Emmanuel’s Soup’s On ministry, as well as Coffee Hour and other parish uses. Bringing the kitchen up to code allows our kitchen tenant to provide breakfast and lunch 5 days a week for Trinity’s summer school program, support Sail Newport’s meal programs over the summer, and take on a culinary school intern from Newport Area Technical College, so we can provide a local student with a place to learn and grow. Pam and Ron Fleming faithfully care for the grounds through the cold dark of winter and spring’s new green.
Jesus ate broiled fish, pointing us back to Galilee, and our ministry in community. Let that memory mix with our desire to share in the resurrection. Amen