I remember a woman once telling me how she kept her sense of balance and priorities in perspective, in light of the very public life she led. She said when she had too many demands on her time, she tried to remember that when she died, it would be her children - and not all of the other people who were constantly drawing close to her – who would be standing there when she was lowered into her grave.
I don’t know why I haven’t thought of it more often when I am in a cemetery – probably because I usually have things to do and words to speak – but I thought about it last Saturday when I was standing at the mausoleum in Shawnee Park Memorial Gardens. Linda and I were there with my brother as his wife was settled into her final resting place. Standing around were her sons and granddaughters, in-laws, nieces and nephews, and a small smattering of friends. As the words were offered up and the granite was fixed into its place, I surveyed the people standing in the light mist and thought how many people she had known in her life, but how I was standing among the folks who loved her the most . . . standing among the folks she loved the most.
And here we are, working our way through these Lenten days.
Soon, Good Friday will come upon us.
The truth is that it passes quickly – often almost without our noticing.
One Sunday, he is alive, and we are waving palms.
A week later, he is alive again, and we are decked out in our Easter finest.
In between, there was the heartbreak.
The crowd that gathered at Jesus’ tomb was smaller than the number who gathered for “Queenie” . . . markedly smaller. Really, it was just the women, and really only a handful of them. Hurriedly that Friday night as the shadows fell, and quickly two days later as the first beams of sun began to light the skies - the whole thirty or thirty-five hours is told in the fewest of verses:
The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid . . . at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared.
Of all the people he had known, of all the crowds to whom he had preached, of all the influential ones whose path his had crossed, it was just these couple of women. But, I suppose it was true then too. They were among the select few that had loved him the most . . . and who he had loved the most.
And I tell you this: while I have never thought of it in quite these terms before, I suppose I came home thinking that maybe God is calling me to be at more gravesites. Which is just an off-beat way of saying that maybe God is calling me to embrace the heartache of giving and receiving love more deeply. With more people.
What we recognize and celebrate in cemeteries is the best that has happened within the dash . . . that hyphen between the dates on the monument. And all of us who worship him have known that somehow . . . that this great drama we are living through in these Lenten days is finally a revelation of and a call to love. And when that has happened, there is that one other truth to be spoken: death has no power.
None at all.
None at all.
Blessings and Peace,
I write these words early on a dreary, cold, rain-soaked morning. The darkness and the solitude seem appropriate as I put the final touches on the publicity for events and programs which will be part of our Lenten program. Over in the sanctuary, there are folks who are praying – or will soon be praying – to ready their spirits for the Lenten journey to come.
I write these words two days after the rash of texts and phone calls that told us that my brother’s wife had suffered a stroke, was not responding, and yes, had then left us and slipped into the mystery. She was the “other” Linda Walling – I have her in my phone as “Linda Walling 2” but she preferred the moniker “Queenie.” I have no idea how or why the rest of the family bestowed that nickname on her, but it kind of fit other than that she had a certain regal air about her. She was still a child when she lost her parents and was raised by relatives. She and Dale married when his boys were still pretty young, and she brought a great deal of love not just to Dale but to Max and Sam. In addition, she has two sons and two granddaughters. She will be deeply missed.
I write these words in the wake of the painful United Methodist deliberations about who can be ordained to ministry and who can be married to one another. We have good Methodist colleagues in ministry who feel deeply violated by the outcome of the vote, and we all have friends in Methodist congregations who are now left to suffer through one more judgment about the rightness of their loves.
I write these words with a congregation in mind that is enduring surgeries and illnesses, grief and mourning, loss and anxiety. I have often heard it said that “a mother can only be as happy as her least happy child.” It makes you wonder if a pastor can only be as happy as his or her least happy congregant. Probably not, but it is a reminder that we – you and I – are at every moment tied in love to someone who is walking uphill and carrying a burden.
I write these words . . . well, you get the gist of what I am saying. Lent will be upon us soon. Lent – those days of death and darkness . . . that season of sin and sadness. Lent – that wilderness time that is a reminder that Jesus spent time in the desert. Indeed, there is nothing that we experience that our Lord has not shared with all humanity. The Gospels assure us that the only path to resurrection is through the rough country . . . that the only true experience of resurrection is revealed in loss.
So, join me in the journey.
Write your words – your experiences of the painful quiet and the dark loneliness of our spirits’ winters.
Blessings and Peace,
And a Postscript . . .
And let me offer you a little heads-up about a new offering for us beginning this summer. Some of our worshipers have come to find communion by Intinction – that is by taking bread and dipping it into the cup – to be a most meaningful way to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. So, for the next several weeks, we will have one of our Deacons presenting a plate with bread and a chalice with juice somewhere at the front of the sanctuary. It could be a little rough as we work out the logistics, so bear with us. For most of you, the wafer and cup of juice will be served to you in the pews. But if you are one of those who prefers a loaf and a cup to dip in, find our Intinction Station.
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These thoughts and reflections come from our Senior Minister, Minister of Music and Board Chair. We hope that they provide both challenge and inspiration for your spiritual life.