Friday, March 04, 2011

Remembering Mary Anne Hitchcock (1929-2011)

The Bean Feast by Jacob Jordaens (1593-1678)

A homily for the Celebration of the Life of Mary Anne Hitchcock. The scripture readings were Wisdom 2:1-5,9; Psalm 23, Revelation 21:2-7, and John 2:1-11.

I sometimes used to wonder where Mary got her training for Coffee Hour. She had well-developed skills for elbowing her way to the food, early and often. When I learned that she had spent some of her childhood in New York City, I wondered if perhaps she had trained at Zabar’s, or maybe she developed her skills closer by at Rodman’s on any given Saturday morning. Or maybe because she was small, she learned early on that she had to stick up for herself. Having one sibling who was 10 years older, again—she had make herself known. And that, she did.

Mary made herself known to us with her brilliant red hair, with her voice that was very willing to be raised (whether it was over changes to the language of prayer, or a question at a parish meeting). And she made herself known with her fantastic, patriotic, Cat-in-the-Hat kind of headpiece. With talk of the upcoming royal wedding in England, several of us yesterday were talking about the little hat-like things some British women wear, called “fascinators.” Well, when Mary put on her red, white, and blue hat, she not only fascinated, she surprised, startled, and astounded, as well.

Before my time at All Souls, Mary and Gloria Wilson were a team. But being the best of friends did not stop them for minute from arguing with one another—up the sidewalk, into the narthex, and right into the pew—whether the preaching was preaching or the choir was singing, if they had an argument to finish, they were going to finish it.

I don’t know what Mary said the very first time I met her, but somewhere near our first meeting, I remember her looking up at me (sort of sideways) and almost accusing me, “So, you’re the new priest! Welcome. Hope you like us and will stay a while.” And then, just as I was beginning to warm to her, she continued. “I have a question.” (Yes?, I wondered). “When are we going to sing some of the ‘old hymns.?’”
I think I tried to respond as diplomatically as possible and change the subject. And though we never talked about hymns for a funeral, I hope that Mary would approve of the hymns for today.

Mary was never afraid to speak up. She was like another Mary, Mary the Mother of Jesus, who appears in today’s Gospel. They’re at a wedding in Cana and there is a disaster, a disaster Mary Hitchcock would have completely understood. They’ve run out of wine, and Jesus’ mother (in good Mary Hitchcock fashion) points it out.

“They have no wine,” she points out. But Jesus doesn’t seem to appreciate the comment. He hears it as a call to action, and he’s not really meaning to be busy right now. But he obliges his mother.

Mary (the Mother of God, that is) knew when there was a potential for a good party. And lucky for her, for the wedding guests, and for Christian tradition, Jesus got busy. After an initial reluctance to perform a miracle then and there (we can imagine him looking at her saying something to the effect of, “Oh, Mom, not now.” But a miracle is made. Water is turned into wine, and St. John calls this the “first of his signs.” That is to tell us that this miracle, this sign, is simply a foretaste of much bigger, much better things to come. The significance of the Wedding at Cana is not that Jesus attended a wedding party. It’s not even that Jesus can so parlor tricks at his mother’s request. Instead, this story shows us something about God’s love. God’s love overflows like water after a torrential downpour, like juice running freely as grapes are pressed, and as we’ll hear on Good Friday, like the water of life flowing out of the side of Jesus Christ, as he shows us the extent of God’s love for us on the cross.

God’s love and mercy are overflowing, unbounded, ever-surprising, and never-ending.

Mary Hitchcock is not the only person to know that the Kingdom of God has a lot of food in it. Another Mary, Mary Francis Kennedy Fisher, known as M.F.K. Fisher, said

“Food for the soul is a part of all religion.” “Food for the soul is a part of all religion, as . . . savages know when they roast a tiger’s heart for their god, as Christians know when they partake of the Body and Blood at the mystical feast of Holy Communion. That is why there can be an equal significance in a sumptuous banquet for five thousand heroes, with the king sitting on his iron throne and minstrels singing above the sound of gnawed bones and clinking cups, or in a piece of dry bread eaten alone by a man lifting his eyes unto the hills.” [Here Let us Feast: A Book of Banquets (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1986) xiv, reprinted from 1946 Viking Press.]

We can be thankful that when we get to heaven, there will be something like the Zagat Survey to all the best places to eat up there. And Mary Hitchcock will be our guide.

Until then, we will miss her. We will miss hearing her voice, trying to answer her questions, seeing her all over the District, wherever there is a street fair or festival. And we will miss her at this altar and at the tables in the Undercroft, places where we exchanged laughter and love.

I mentioned that Mary used to ask me, “When are we going to sing some of the old hymns.” Today, after Communion, rather than kneel as we often do, I invite you to stand with me and sing a hymn that I think Mary would agree is among the best of the “old hymns,” “Leaning on the everlasting arms of God.” It can be sung with gratitude for a life well lived and with joy that Mary now sings and celebrates, and eats and drinks, right along side us in the Communion of Saints.

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