My extended family gathered to make apple butter at my cousin’s house this weekend. Apple butter making is an old tradition that requires fires to be lit under two 40 gallon copper kettles early in the morning so that 20 bushels of apples can be cooked all day. Late in the afternoon we add copious amounts of sugar, cinnamon and cloves and pour it into Mason jars for the months ahead. I spent the best part of that day catching up with family while we took turns stirring the kettles with large wooden paddles. One of those kettles was passed down by my Great-Uncle Charles, a family patriarch who was kind and gentle and a man I admired as long as I can remember. He was hard-working and good-natured, a man of gentle humor, good sense and deep Christian faith. I admired him more as I grew older, when I learned of some of the deep heartaches he endured. Despite all that came to his life, he persevered.
He once told us that this kettle was given to him by his grandmother, and if the family memory is correct on this, it was first used in the late 1800’s. My cousin shared this with me in the morning and all day long I kept thinking about all the people who had stood around that kettle stirring and talking. I considered all that happened over those years. That kettle saw young men go to Europe in WWI, the roaring ’20’s, the stock market crash and the Great Depression. I wondered if they made apple butter during WWII when they would have had less people to help and sugar was rationed. I went through the decades one by one, imagining how people dressed as they stirred that kettle. As it was cleaned at the close of the day, I considered how many generations had laid their hands on that old copper kettle. While the country faced good times and bad, crisis times when all seemed lost, and periods of economic expansion when all was well, people gathered around that kettle and carried out an unchanging tradition in the midst of an ever-changing and uncertain world.
The last few weeks have been difficult for most of us. Watching our elected officials slowly broker a temporary budget and reluctantly overcome their impasse has been disappointing in many ways. Many in our congregation are facing difficult financial situations due to the recent furlough and lost work in the private sector. Some have lost jobs or have had to lay off employees. The uncertainty we feel about our nation’s future and our personal lives as a result of the budget negotiations is a time to cling to a deeper faith in the God who is present through all the generations and who transcends all the ups and downs of this world.
Like you, I have felt that uncertainty, because at the end of the day, we are all connected. Last weekend, that old apple butter kettle reminded me of what is good in life: the love of family and friends, the concern people hold for each other, the resiliency of the human spirit, the tie that binds faith in Christ, and the hope that one day after I am gone, another generation may gather in timeless traditions that extend beyond any one of us.