Only once a year were mass quantities of wine served in the basement of the Lutheran church: on Maunday Thursday. Someone had a lamb roasted. The lamb was a source of stress for me and my sisters. We didn’t eat lamb at home (we weren’t that exotic) and visions of wooly Jesus-guided lambettes danced in our heads when the silver platter of steaming meat appeared. It just didn’t seem right. And then there was the wine.
We used booklets that led us through the Passover Seder as Jesus would have practiced it, the first century ritual. For us, on Maunday Thursday, it commemorated the Last Supper. And it was a nice parallel, knowing that modern Seders were happening all over the world, around the same time. If you later went to a real Seder, you’d know what to expect.
During the ritual, you drink several glasses of wine. Grape juice was provided, for kids, and for the meek. Drinking wine in a Lutheran church was acceptable, if suspicious. I felt like Al and I were among the few who actually enjoyed the wine.
Al didn’t care about acceptable. He was a foot shorter than me, and fifty years older. He had one of those set swoops of hair that men decided upon in the 1950s and stick with the rest of their lives. He had a huge, brilliant Roman nose. I am almost certain he was Italian, and what he was doing in a Protestant church, I don’t know. Maybe Lutheran was his wife’s persuasion. I know that hanging out with him, I felt like I was in Rome. He had grown up in the Bronx. He still had traces of a jagged Bronx accent. He told great stories, about working in a grocery as a kid, about New York in the ’30s and ’40s.
He attended a class I taught at church, and was honest with his contributions. If he didn’t like something, or something made him uncomfortable, he’d say so, without apologizing. It’s very hard to be honest at church, even in a class where some were Buddhist or Jewish or merely Christian-ish. Sometimes I was worried he’d said something crude or intolerant enough to discourage discussion. I prefer the revealed to the concealed, the crude to the slick. He could be grouchy, but he wasn’t cruel.
When there was wine left, we drank it. I remember us being the last two at the tables. Then we went upstairs for eucharist wine, to hear about the Garden of Gethsemane, and to see the altar stripped and ritually cleaned.