Pastor’s Email Devotion
The Week of Lent 4
March 6, 2016
Jesus wept. (John 11:35, RSV)
It has been a challenging week. This past Monday we buried one of our 97-year-old members, who was a “lifer” here. It was a beautiful service honoring a beautiful life, and an opportunity to remind ourselves of the promises God offers us in the face of death. But I was also reminded that one more human link to our old “Neffsville” days has passed. Tomorrow, we entrust into God’s hands another of our saints, who while spending far fewer years on this good earth, still leaves a significant footprint, as a man who valiantly fought cancer for many years. He too leaves a rich heritage behind, both at St. Peter’s and in our Lancaster community. And while he does not go back to our the days of when our church was in Neffsville proper, he has been here since the time I first set foot on St. Peter’s soil as a student intern thirty-five years ago. In the middle of these two funeral services, we lost yet another of our saints – a newer member to our community. While his opportunities to serve among us were limited due to his being a new member, he was a weekly worshipper, a volunteer at our Welcome Center, and given his long history of active membership elsewhere, a person we expected to soon see at work among us. The unique challenge of his death was that he had just celebrated his marriage in our sanctuary a short seven months ago, a wedding at which I was blessed to be the officiant.
Each of these saints leaves a place of emptiness behind. The death of each one elicits grief among those most closely connected, and those who knew each person in their time among us. And those leaders among us who are charged with entrusting these saints into God’s hands through the ministry, community, and liturgy of God’s Church on earth, can be pressed emotionally to provide faithful words and counsel to the grieving. Personally, I would stop short of saying I feel overwhelmed be week just passed. But if I am honest, at times this week I have not stopped very short of that reality of being overwhelmed. Even those of us who regularly walk among the dead as companions to our surviving saints here at church, have hearts and memories and spirits that can be touched by the randomness of life. Yes, it has been a challenging week.
Into this reality, however, God finds ever-unsuspected opportunities to surprise us with grace and hope. This morning as I stood at the back of the church following the 8AM service, Pr. Sarah directed me to a young lady who was waving at us, as we sang the final hymn of the service. Not just any young lady … but one who developed an extremely serious disease before Christmas, and who has been in hospital and rehabilitation assignments ever since. Most of us expected that pattern to continue for any number of the months ahead. And yet … there she was, standing with her parents, worshipping as she has for the past decade and a half. Seeing and talking with her after church felt like a miracle, truth be told. I expected to be visiting with her in her rehab facility well into the summer, when opportunity would permit it. Yet, here she was in flesh and blood, looking healthy and full of life, and significantly further along on her journey of recovery, than I would have thought possible at this point in time. The joy of seeing her does not erase the grief I feel over our losses this week. Grief can only be healed through a faithful process of remembering, crying, honoring, and healing. But I can tell you it helped to balance the table a bit. It offered hope – a moment of joy, in the midst of a week filled with loss. It did for me, what God regularly does for all of us – namely remind us that in the delicate balance of joy and sorrow, pain and pleasure, life and death that is human existence – God works for the good, and in situations and at times when the world betrays us, God offers us moments that remind us that there are still blessings to be found in life. The pain of this week has not been erased by any means. But God is working to balance it with moments of redemption and hope and healing. One was gifted to us this morning. I will pray to have the eyes and heart to see others. And I invite you to do the same, in your moments of grief, loss and struggle. Know that God still walks among us and with you, even in the darkest of times.
O God of hope, open my eyes to grace, when I cannot see it by my own power and wisdom, and heal me through your life-giving Spirit. Amen.