My congregation begins its observance of Maundy Thursday with a Stone Soup dinner. Last year, my first in this congregation, I decided to follow the congregation's traditions for the first year to see how they worked, and then to think about making changes. (I did add a Way of the Cross walk for Good Friday, and I did rework the Tenebrae a bit.) I didn't get Stone Soup at all.
Footwashing, communion, tenebrae -- these are all traditional Maundy Thursday observances. Stone Soup is a nice folk tale, a good story of community and the abundance of gifts, but I didn't quite see how it fit with Maundy Thursday.
The first year at a new congregation is a whirlwind. During Holy Week last year I was trying to take in so many details and worrying about how it would all go; I'm not sure I really took it all in. I didn't even write myself notes for the next year's planning, something I always do.
This year I decided to continue with tradition again. But I made one change; instead of reading Stone Soup during the meal to everyone over the microphone I asked each table to tell the Stone Soup story itself. I took a version of the traditional tale, rewrote it a bit, printed it on cardstock and put a copy on each table. Then I asked the eldest person at each table to read it.
I ate my soup (there were three kinds -- beef, chicken noodle, and a vegetarian) and bread. I noticed, perhaps for the first time, the lovely tureens that held the soup, a bargain find from someone on the worship committee for just this purpose. I saw the pottery plates and chalices, commissioned for just this annual event, gracing each table. I looked around at all the different generations of people sharing this meal together.
Then the eldest at my table picked up the story and began to read it. It is a familiar story. I read it as a child and I crafted this particular version. But I have to admit I got caught up in it, listening to Bill's voice, how the villagers found a bit of food to share together, and how it turned into a lovely meal. There were a few moments when I was lifted out of my worry over details, when I was transported to some other place.
Then we continued with the rest of the evening: communion around each table, processing to the sanctuary, sharing the Service of Tenebrae (shadows).
I still can't quite say what Stone Soup has to do with Maundy Thursday. Since it isn't appropriate to share a seder together as Christians (that's another conversation) it serves as a good community meal on a night where food is foundational. But last night I was glad I had the sense to experience the congregation's traditions before suggesting we change them. The surprisingly delightful community meal, made out of an sometimes-hoarded but now-released part of ourselves, says a lot about what it means to worship together, to be church together, and how this particular congregation lives together.
I did ask about footwashing. Someone said, "What is it with you clergy and footwashing?" I don't know. But I've made my planning notes for next year. I'll be planning on Stone Soup.