The Feast of the Epiphany, January 6
And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Rick, Movie Critic and Gift Giver
Rick and Millie retired from New York to warmer winters in the Wilmington area. She was the cradle Lutheran and he the ethnically Jewish convert. When she died, Rick said “yes” to a funeral mass for Millie and insisted that we sing her favorite communion hymn, “Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness.” He spoke with tears in his eyes of how her faith had always moved him and that his conversion was really from being a non-religious Jew to being an active Christian who was ethnically Jewish, like the 3,000 on Pentecost Sunday.
As a young man he fell in love with movies, and that love stayed with him to the end of his life. After being widowed, he watched the Turner Classic Movie channel all the time and kept the latest guide to movies. When I would allude to movies in sermons, he would always comment on that. When he bought the latest edition of the movie guide, he passed along his worn edition as a treasured friend. I accepted Rick’s gift with much gratitude precisely because I knew what the book had meant to him. He actually swelled with pride when my wife told him he looked a lot like Martin Landau.
Dear friends at church worried about Rick after he was widowed. He was always tall and thin, but he seemed to grow thinner. Friends would take him out to lunch after church to make sure he got a good meal. When my wife baked a ham for Rick, he said to her: “What am I going to do with all this ham?” She said, “Well, you can invite friends for dinner and freeze the rest.” Mostly he said he ate TV dinners. I flashed back to my sixth grade year after Mom had gone back to nursing and working evenings. The big kids were all out of the house. Dad was civically involved and out a lot of nights for meetings at City Hall or the Chamber of Commerce. So, I ate TV dinners almost every night. I felt Rick’s loneliness in the memory.
Rick was a whiz at movie trivia. He could tell you who was in which movie and which movie was a remake of an earlier film. He knew something about even those who only had B movie careers. In short, as a widower, movies were where Rick lived. I can still imagine him being able to recite lines from his favorite movies. When he asked early on what my favorite movies were, I answered “Casablanca” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.” He smiled broadly, “Ah, a romantic.” So, from then on, he had me pegged.
We buried Millie’s ashes in the Memorial Garden. Rick always called her Mildred when he spoke to me about her. A few weeks after her death, he brought me a long black leather coat and some clip on earrings of hers. Rick said, “Your wife is tall. She will look good in Mildred’s coat. Here are a few of her favorite costume jewelry items, too.” Laura was very moved by the gift, knowing what it meant to Rick. He teared up when he saw her wearing Millie’s coat on a cold winter day. I’m sure he thought again of his wife as a young woman. When our daughter played Mary one Christmas, she wore one of Millie’s scarves.
Today is the Feast of the Epiphany of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the western Church, we remember the visit of the magi and their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. It has become a newer tradition to sing, “We Three Kings,” although Matthew does not say there were three kings or that they were kings. Rather, he calls them “magoi,” (wise men) from which we get our word “magician,” and describes three gifts. His point is these were not Jews but Gentiles, students of the stars and familiar with Jewish biblical literature. Many scholars peg them as Persian wise men, who, because of the presence of Jews in Babylon and subsequently in Persia after Cyrus the Great’s victory, likely knew the Jewish expectation of Messiah.
Rick’s boys married Jewish girls and no longer practiced the Christian faith. It was the reversal of their father’s and mother’s story. So, when Rick died, they came down from New York, and we buried his ashes in the Memorial Garden, too. Old friends from the parish were present to remember and give God thanks and praise for Rick and Millie’s lives. They were such dear unsung saints who blessed us with their lives.
Dear Father, thank you for the gift of Rick and Mildred, who were devoted to you, to each other, to their boys, and to their church family. Grant us grace to bow before you this day like them and with your magi. In Jesus’ holy name. Amen.
Place thirty-nine pennies, nickels, or dimes in a bowl or box out of love for neighbors in need.
Pastor Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
St Matthew's Evangelical Lutheran Church
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.