A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road...
We enter Holy Week, aware that this is global pandemic. Those who die in Italy, Iran, and Wuhan are no longer foreigners to us. We remember the crowds and know that we are all in this together. No one is isolated from the compassion of Jesus.
I almost didn't do my blog today. As I awoke, my phone's text screen said that Francis, a family member, had passed. She was a woman of faith. As she lay in Hospice, I was working on the death scene of the novel I am doing. I found myself revisiting about Jesus' words, a seed has to die to being a seed in order to be alive as a plant. Good way to think about death.
In John 12, Jesus gives a profound explanation for our lives: We are seeds. We get planted on this earth as seedy-self-centered beings. What we were before is unknown, and who we have to thank seems an irrelevant question. We live seed-illy, bumping up against other seeds, facing rejection, misunderstandings, and a general shared ignorance about life. Then the hour comes when we are cracked open and transformed. The new life, the miracle, casts our seed-shell aside. Jesus asks, “Shall I say No to this hour?”
Yesterday we laid to rest our faithful dog, Bella. She was a small shepherd mix, with a gentle disposition, who loved to travel. She suffered more than she needed to over this winter because she refused to take her medication, and I ran out of ways to sneak the pill into the food that she was losing interest in eating. As we held the graveside service, I realized that I had crossed a line. Before Bella adopted us, I was uncomfortable offering up to the Lord requests concerning the welfare of pets. “There are no cats in heaven. And no, Lassie doesn’t have a soul,” I would say.
v1) I have proven myself incapable of distinguishing between what I need and what I want. The Master lays down for me nutritious food and clear water. I beg for table scraps, wolf them down, and barf it all up on the carpet. I root through the garbage, I drink from the toilet. In spite of all this, the Master loves this shepherd.
v2-3) Our friendship has been formed by many walks. It is in going out into the world that I have come to know my Master’s will. He leads me around dangers and across busy streets. He seems to know both the destination and the lessons I need to learn on the way. He knows when I need to rest, or take a drink. He always has a bag handy for when I poop. He waits patiently for me and teaches me to wait for him.
v 4) I don’t think about death. I know that my Master’s life will go on much longer than mine. I simply hope that he will remember me. The Master has disciplined me when I’ve needed it. He has guided me when I have been anxious. In fact, he has never failed at this. I am comforted. I have the strength to face the unknown.
[The women] came back from the tomb and told all these things to [the men]
I remember my first funeral, it was Flo Chisholm. I was a halfway through Dr. Zeigler’s dreaded Systematic Theology student pastor who had just been hired to drive the hundred miles from Bangor to Danville and bring the word. Flo was beloved by the whole congregation and they spoke her name in a worried tone during the morning prayers. I visited her as she lay upon her rented hospital bed, parked in the living room. For a month of Sundays, I chitchatted and she gave me wise insights into life as it is lived in a quiet Maine village. The last of those Sundays I arrived in a new three-piece navy blue suit with a reversible vest. She appreciated it and I said, “Yep. It’s my marrying and burying suit.” She raised an eyebrow and asked, “So, who’s getting married?” Then, when I stumbled for words, she laughed.
From Flo I learned what I was there for. I needed both in her presence and at her funeral, to speak transparently about death and our shared hope for what follows. This is one of the few remaining gifts that our secular society still gives to clergy; the opportunity to speak frankly about death. If we can face it in all of its forms, and not stumble; then we are given permission to say what we believe about eternal life.