Central Idea: When we share the Lord’s meal, we find the strength to deal with our failings, our losses and those things that divide us.

One of my favorite short stories is called A Small, Good Thing by Raymond Carver. It was part of a movie of his stories called Short Cuts.

It is not a story for the faint of heart.

It’s about a mother, Ann Weiss, who orders a birthday cake for her son Scotty’s eighth birthday.  On the day of the party, Scotty, on his way to school, is hit by an automobile.  At first, he seems fine.  But as time goes on he nods off and then lapses into a coma.  His parents keep a steady quiet vigil at the hospital, occasionally making it home for a break.  But while they are at home, they receive a series of hateful phone calls from a strange man.  The man continually berates the suffering parents: What about Scotty?  Have you forgotten about Scotty?  The phone calls are disturbing, provoking and infuriating.  Who could say such awful things, especially at a time like this?

Then Scotty dies.  A hidden occlusion, a one-in-a-million circumstance.  Ann and her husband return home crushed, battered and desolate.  The phone rings again.  It is the same abusive man with the same abusive message: “Your Scotty, I got him ready for you.  Did you forget? Have you forgotten about Scotty?”

Their sorrow has now turned into rage, a violent nearly uncontrollable hatred.  It is then that Ann figures out who the man is:

He’s the baker, the baker from whom she ordered Scotty’s birthday cake.

In the middle of the night, Ann and her husband drive down to the bakery to confront the man who has made their lives a living hell for the past three days.  As they enter the bakery, the baker recognizes Ann immediately.  He continues with the abuse:

“You want to pick up your three-day-old cake?  That it? There it sits over there, getting stale.  I’ll give it to you for half of what I quoted you.  No.  You want it? You can have it.  It’s no good to me, no good to anyone now.  It cost me time and money to make that cake.  If you want it, okay, if you don’t that’s okay too.  I have to get back to work.”

Ann spits back at him:

“I know you work at night. You also make phone calls at night.”  The baker picks up a rolling pin ominously and taps it against his hand.  Then, with cold finality, Ann says: “My son’s dead.  He was hit by a car Monday morning.  We’ve been waiting with him at the hospital until he died.  But, of course, you couldn’t be expected to know that, could you? Bakers can’t know everything, can they?  But he’s dead.  He’s dead, you jerk. It isn’t fair, it isn’t fair.”

Her husband Howard chimes in: “Shame on you.  Shame.”

With this damning revelation, the baker puts down the rolling pin and shakes his head slowly.  He slowly gets out a table and some chairs and invites the couple to sit down.

“I wanted to kill you,” Ann continues, “I wanted you dead.”

As he sits at the table with them, the Baker apologizes.

“God alone knows how sorry I am.  Listen to me.  I’m just a baker.  I don’t claim to be anything else.  Maybe once, maybe years ago, I was a different kind of human being.  I’ve forgotten, I don’t know for sure.  But I’m not any longer, if I ever was.  Now I’m just a baker.  That don’t excuse my doing what I did, I know.  But I’m deeply sorry.  I’m sorry for your son, and sorry for my part in this.  I don’t have any children myself, so I can only imagine what you must be feeling.  All I can say to you now is that I’m sorry.  Forgive me, if you can.  I am not an evil man, I don’t think.  Not evil, like you said on the phone.  You got to understand what it comes down to is I don’t know how to act anymore, if would seem.  Please, let me ask you if you can find it in your hearts to forgive me.”

Howard and Ann sit silently.  Then the baker gets up pours some coffee and offers the couple some of his hot rolls to eat.

“Eating is a small, good thing in a time like this.”

And as they ate they talked.  The baker talked about his life, his loneliness, his doubts and his limitations, what it feels to be childless.

And Carver concludes the story: They talked on into the early morning, the high place cast of light in the windows, and they did not think of leaving.

I like this story because it tells of the simple, transforming, healing, life-changing property of a meal, a simple meal, and especially the meal that we remember tonight.  We gather as church day after day, week after week, year after year.  We come broken and hurting like the couple.  We come embittered, angry and full of malice and venom like the baker.  We come in need of forgiveness and in need of forgiving others.  And we gather to hear the powerful word and partake of the bread and the cup, and find, often in the oddest of places, reconciliation, sustenance and peace.  Maybe over the past few weeks, you and your family have shared such a dinner.  Maybe over the internet with friends, you have share a similar experience.

The Eucharist, which we commemorate this evening, is that place.

Unfortunately, circumstances have conspired to keep us from gathering as a parish this evening.  That’s sad, because Holy Thursday is the one celebration that brings us all together: 5 pm Mass on Saturday crowd, 7:30, 9 and 11 on Sunday folks.  It is a night when we recall a simple meal that Jesus shared with his disciples.

That meal, like the feast of buns and coffee in Carver’s short story, is what we are all about here at this table.  We are the abused and the abusers. We are the sinners and we are the saints.  We are the peacemakers and we are the warriors.  We are petty and small and angry and frustrated and scared and weak and narrow-minded and fragile and pent up and intimidated and irritated and bewildered and shattered and dazed and lost.

But most of all… we are, especially this year, hungry.  So we come here and are fed.

Fed. By a small, good thing, called grace.

Just ask Fr. Kevin

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Read more homily reflections from Fr. Kevin (Click here to view the archive)

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