In the Lectionary

August 22, Ordinary 21B (Psalm 84)

In Psalm 84, an expectant swallow makes her nest in the temple.

After the death of his beloved wife, Florence, Tom vowed to live the remainder of his days to the fullest. Nearly 90 years old, he began hosting tailgating parties, so named because he used the tailgate of his golf cart to deliver party food and beverages to his backyard guests. Tom’s family chipped in to buy a full-sized, fake palm tree adorned with Christmas lights—a festive centerpiece for his soirees. Plastic fronds cascaded over guests like a mother hen gathering chicks beneath her wings. Twinkling lights on the branches illuminated partygoers’ faces while mirroring Tom’s joy at having brought them together.

Like the velveteen rabbit from the children’s book, the artificial tree came to symbolize more than the sum of its manufactured parts. Its whimsy reflected not only Tom’s generous hospitality but also his renewed attention to savoring each day of life as a gift. It’s no surprise, then, that when Tom died, his family could not bear to part with the tree. But neither could they find an indoor space to accommodate its broad canopy. So Tom’s son carted the palm home and placed it on a second-story porch, where the tree remained untouched for several years.

But that’s not the end of the story. Last spring, just as the pandemic shuttered public gathering spaces, Tom’s daughter-in-law, Nancy, noticed a couple of birds regularly visiting the tree. Unperturbed by the plastic branches, the Christmas lights, or the close proximity to humans, the pair of finches built a nest in its faux foliage. One by one, eggs appeared, dappled and blue—sure signs of hope in a season devoid of good news.