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Backroads Liturgy

It is Maundy Thursday.  Instead of heading to church for the commemoration of what Christians call the Last Supper and –  less considered and even a little uncomfortable –  the washing of the apostles’ feet by Jesus, I am heading to the grocery store because I forgot to get cheese and noodles for Sunday’s mac and cheese and because the cheese grater that I have had for my entire adult life has given up the ghost.  I am more than a little perturbed, irritated, put out.

That said, it is a lovely afternoon.  After a couple of days of heavy clouds and heavier rain, the sun is bright, but soft.  It sifts through the back windshield to land on my shoulders like a fleece blanket, like Grannie’s veined hands stroking me gently as she shushed my little girl tears.  The fields that stretch out on either side of the road are practically grinning, so ready to feel the tremble of new growth pushing up through the soil.  Perhaps, I think, this – this gentle hum of spring that I can feel recalibrating my mood – is communion in a different form.

Rounding a curve, I feel gravity pull against the cruise control, and see, a couple of hundred yards ahead, a shiny black pick-up truck stopped in the road.  I slow as I approach.  A man steps out, leaves the driver’s door open, and begins moving toward something lying in the left-hand lane.  It could be a baseball cap.  It could be anything, really, but I think it is a baseball cap.

He pauses as I get close enough to make out his features.  His hair and moustache are the color of his truck.  He is no older than forty.  He is muscled, not like a man who works out, but like a man who works outside.   He is also, I can tell from the shine on his truck, a man who is particular, a man who pays attention.

I am only a couple of car lengths away now.  He lifts his arms and I assume he is going to wave me around, the way we say in the country, “Never mind me sitting here in the road.”  He does not.  Instead, he frantically waves his arms over his head and then points to the baseball cap, which – I suddenly realize – is not a baseball cap, but a turtle.

I smile, lift my hands from the steering wheel to make sure he knows I understand, and watch him bend down and gently nudge the turtle toward the newly-green grass on the edge of the road.  He is grinning as he hurries back toward the truck.

“Thank you!” I yell.   He doesn’t hear what I’ve said.  He trots toward me.  “Thank you,” I repeat.  

He smiles and shrugs.  “I had to help the little fellow.”  

He returns to his truck, lets me go first.  He follows me all the way to the stop sign at the four-lane highway where we turn to go in different directions.

I blink my eyes to hold back tears. All the irritation and disappointment of a few moments before dissolve in the kindness, the tenderness, the humility of one man’s lowering himself to serve another.  

That is, I realize, as the Easter weekend traffic rushes past, what this day, this week is about.  That is what the liturgy means when it urges us to “Do this in remembrance of me.”

Not every church service takes place in a church.  Not every worshipful offering is made in the reflection of stained glass.  Not every prayer is uttered from a pew.  Sometimes, like today, the service is held, the offering made, the prayer whispered between strangers on an asphalt road.

Copyright 2024

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