A Simple Wooden Table...
I’d give just about anything right now to have it back.
It sat on the porch of that burned out parish house for months while the rehab/rebuild progressed slowly.
Our parish rectory had burned very nearly to the ground on the Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy in 2012, the singular event that precipitated the table being placed on the porch in the first place, and my family being immediately displaced. I had always intended to go back to get it, to bring it to our temporary living accommodations and to put it back into regular use later, but, as those things go and time passes, as labor intensifies to put a household back in order, you forget about certain details like a derelict and once beloved wooden kitchen table, only slightly damaged in the fire.
It was of no value to anyone really, but upon its surface had been carved the names of so many of our friends who had passed through a number of kitchens at a number of previous addresses. Each name belonged to a beloved face and each uniquely carved letter carried with it the fondness of memory, the bright shadow of warm conversations and memories of many meals shared across it.
What had been the locus of intimacy in one context had through circumstance become an unfortunate afterthought but oh, how now grievously I wish I knew whatever became of it…..
Matthew sat across from me at the table in my kitchen, absentmindedly munching on whatever was laid upon it, deep in conversation about something, probably something frivolous and silly. He was as much at home in the presence of inarticulate Neanderthals like me as in the sphere of the brilliant. He once said to me with an appreciative smile, “I love how BIG you are; how ‘Too Much’ you are. Too loud, too much food, too much beer, too much car, too much love making, too many kids. You’re all together too much. I absolutely love it.” He seemed to always recognize so charitably that mine was not the company of theological discourse or high-minded philosophy but rather the stuff of pithy presence and purposeful lightheartedness.
He looked at me, only a little incredulous, as I asked him to make his own etching on the table top, but with my reassurance that it was “just what we do”, he undertook it with passive amusement as the conversation continued. We had been enjoying martinis that evening and the bottle of gin was there on the table. In his characteristic absentmindedness, he would pour a few more drops while he sipped at his glass and continued to banter interestedly and to carve away the table surface to reveal the letters of his name and, to my amusement, as the evening went on, the letters became slightly less precise.
As the years passed and we all moved on from seminary into the priesthood or to post graduate endeavors, I would see his name among all the others indelibly fixed, one among many permanent details of my hearth and home. His big block lettered "MATTHEW" always recalling him to my mind; the kindly warmth of his intensely blue eyes, the fabulously ginger beard that crowned his countenance, his engaging whit and clever conversation.
He was Gracious.
He was Guileless.
He was Godly
Matthew occupied no ivory tower of academia. He eschewed the superiority of sophomoric pretense and projected a charity of heart and spirit that was a constant expression of self-emptying love.
The fire in my rectory was three years ago Sunday last; three years ago to the day that Father Matthew, my friend and much beloved brother in Christ met with a most untimely and tragic death in a Connecticut car crash. Many people have asked in one way or another how this could have happened. How could he have been taken from us? Why did God take Matthew from us like this?
The world doesn't just simply "go on" after the death of someone so fundamentally and critically vital to the theological fabric of the Orthodox Church in our time. Why did God take him from us? Why did God alter a trajectory so solidly oriented toward profound magnanimity and saintly humble greatness?
I offer this affirmation in consolation to this understandable yet flawed question. Our all powerful Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who is the artificer of life, the source of wholeness, the very principle of integrity, did neither will nor cause our beloved's tragic, awful demise. He was there at the scene, however; immanent, present, ready to receive Matthew's soul and welcome him into paradise.
Father Matthew Baker now dwells with the saints, awaiting with all of us the ultimate fruition in Christ Jesus, for 'blessed in the sight of The Lord is the death of His saints!'. Matthew is solidly and blessedly lodged in the life-giving bosom of God......
On some level I'm envious, for men such as he are rare and hearts as pure as his rarer still. Of his eternal blessedness there can be no doubt and that he can and now does intercede for us is certain. I can only hope to be a fraction as worthy as he of hearing from the lips of Our Savior "Come, most blessed of my Father, receive the inheritance prepared for you since the creation of the world."
Still, I wonder whatever became of that simple wooden table. This night I should like very much to have it back, to see his name etched into the wood as his memory is ever carved into my heart.
Memory Eternal dearest brother in Christ!