A few days ago, the New York Times ran a piece about a new trend you may not have heard about.
It seems that all across the country, and to some extent, the world, people are choosing to remember their relatives by carving one of their cherished recipes on their gravestone.
As in: “Mom’s Christmas Cookies: cream one cup sugar, half a cup oleo, add two beaten eggs and one teaspoon vanilla”…etc.
It’s not clear that mom’s name or her dates are even on the stone at all – though maybe they’re on the other side.
Of course, if your recipe specifically calls for “oleo,” then a lot of us can pretty much guess your dates, so maybe the specifics don’t matter.
But as the Times reports:
“In cemeteries from Alaska to Israel, families have memorialized their loved ones with the deceased’s most cherished recipes carved in stone. These dishes — mostly desserts — give relatives a way to remember the sweet times and, they hope, bring some joy to visitors who discover them among the more traditional monuments.”
Of course, there are also issues.
In one case, the gravestone company apparently made an error on a fudge recipe which nobody caught until twenty years later, when the other grandparent died…and so for twenty years, anyone who actually gave the recipe a try had been making runny fudge.
If this were a movie, don’t you think that the family would be terrorized by the ghost of fudge-making past, or something?
Well, now they’ve fixed it.
The memory is secure.
Still, it is an interesting trend.
If you were going to be known in perpetuity for just one recipe, what would it be?
Do you know?
Mine would probably be the phone number for Panda Pavillion.
But in all seriousness: if you were known for just one recipe, what would it be?
And what would your hopes for it be?
What would keeping it alive mean to you?
Does it mean the generations will follow it exactly that way forever?
Or does “keeping it alive” mean that each generation gets to build on it…introduce variations…go with “an experiment” in some years and put that before the family jury?
The handing down of recipes is a powerful legacy.
When my parents were married, my dad’s mom sat down and dutifully copied her recipes into a composition book for her new daughter-in-law.
My mom not only still has it. She still uses it.
There are slight differences in the copy my grandmother made for my mom and the copy she made for my Aunt Wendy, and this has meant fifty years of phone consultations and verification and penciled-in corrections.
They’ve also added different recipes of their own.
Other families don’t work that way.
When the parents of a friend of mine were married in India, the bride’s mother-in-law came to live with them for six months for the express purpose of teaching her the recipes.
That the new bride was already a medical doctor with a lot to do was sort of an irrelevant detail.
She needed to learn to make things correctly.
This seems to be especially worth pondering on a holiday weekend – and all the more so on this particular holiday weekend.
The Fourth of July is the most important of our civic holidays, and replete with tradition.
Keith Lockhart is the conductor of the Boston Pops now and has been for almost thirty years.
But to me, it’s like Arthur Fiedler just passed the baton yesterday.
And when I hear the Boston Pops, it might be the new guy up there swinging his arms around, but it’s Arthur Fiedler that I think I hear.
Somehow, he’s still part of my recipe.
More deeply, July 4th is the day when we remember how the Founders left us a recipe.
Their own moment was powerfully experimental.
It had to be.
Their circumstances were chaotic and, at times, terrifying.
If what they built could not endure, the future would be bleak, indeed.
So when Thomas Jefferson wrote: “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” it is important to remember how little else actually was.
Yet he and the Founders believed that to be human itself was to be endowed with certain rights, among them, as Jefferson notes, “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
That particular phrase is closely associated with Jefferson but comes from the English philosopher John Locke.
The Founders agreed that whatever followed needed to start from those principles.
Any vision of a workable future needed to begin there.
And throughout our history, when things have become less than self-evident, we have returned to that recipe.
We have tested our understanding of the way forward by going back to this particular affirmation of who we are.
We argue over its meanings.
After all, what is it to “pursue happiness”?
But we come back to the question because it’s always a good question, though rarely an easy one.
And it is in our capacity to wrestle with it that we are equipped to move forward.
Similarly, in our Gospel this morning, Luke describes a moment when Jesus sends out 70 of his followers to proclaim the Good News throughout the countryside.
It is another story of equipping.
And what comes through so powerfully is how carefully Jesus is trying to prepare them.
He knows it won’t be easy.
He knows they will be rejected by many and scrutinized by everyone.
He not only thinks he’s sending them out as sheep into the midst of wolves, he even tells them so.
But he knows that he has to start getting them ready.
He knows that the transformation of the world depends on him, but that this can only happen as the world finds a way to find him—and that this will be the work of many hands, and many generations.
He knows there will be failures alongside of the successes—that’s already happened to him, too.
And so he gives them this recipe—these steps to follow as they go out on the roads in his name.
What is that recipe?
It’s interesting that he doesn’t say much by way of what they’re actually supposed to preach.
He’s not all that specific about that part.
According to Luke, Jesus just says to tell everyone that “the Kingdom of God has drawn near.”
Maybe that’s a little bit like the idea of the “pursuit of happiness,” which is to say, maybe it’s not supposed to be limited to just one very specific thing.
It’s a touchstone.
It gives you a way to name something you see—or feel—not once, but continually.
It leaves the people in each town with something to debate and discover together, even find new meaning in, well after the missionaries have moved on.
It imagines a life in which people evolve and discover and meander, but always with something fundamental to return to.
To reorient themselves by.
A bit ominously, Jesus says:
But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say,
10:11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’
That means, offer people these words, knowing that they may not mean much to those people now, but in the hope that someday, they will.
Someday, their capacity to guide you, to remind you who you really are, might finally kick in.
Recipes have the power to remind us where we’re from, who we are, and the great legacy of all that has been done for us.
They are alive—growing and changing, as we grow and change, but always seeking to call us back should we stray too far.
They are a central expression of the love and wisdom of families…the love and wisdom of nations.
But most of all, they are a central expression of the love and wisdom of Jesus.
May we join the work to which they call us.
May those who follow receive it from our hands with gratitude and joy.