The usher had just received a phone call letting the church know that a beloved member, K, had died. Her death came sooner than we thought it would, but it wasn't a surprise. K had been suffering since Christmas. She called in hospice earlier in the week and I'd visited her and her husband. Our time together was of a different quality than earlier times. I am leaving the church, but she was facing her death. When we said goodbye, we knew we would not see each other again in this world.
After receiving the news, I came back into the sanctuary mid-hymn: "I am the resurrection and the life. If you believe in me, even though you die you shall live forever." I choked back the tears. The kingdom of God was near.
The hymn continues: "And I will raise you up..."
These last weeks have been full of grief. Two weeks ago, a dear friend learned that his 32 year old son died while mountain climbing in Peru. I'd never met the son, but I happened to be with the family when they got the terrible news. Witnessing their pain, it was impossible not to hurt as well. A huge crowd gathered for the funeral yesterday. It was a testament to a life lived in faith and a death that is not the end. Still, hearts are breaking.
"...and I will raise you up..."
These last weeks have also brought the 2-year anniversary of a college friend's death; the end of a marriage of someone I care about; the shootings in Aurora and Wisconsin. Plus, I'm grieving my church.
"...and I will raise you up on the last day..."
At the late service, as I started in on the Eucharistic Prayer (the long one where we say take and eat...) I knew I was going to cry. It was the last time I'd preside over communion at Prince of Peace; K's death was in the front of all our minds; my friend was preparing for his son's funeral; and I was staring out at a congregation full of people I'd grown to love, many of whom were tearing up as well.
When I lifted the bread, tears started flowing.
I went slowly through the prayer, having to pause often to regain confidence in my voice. "who on this day overcame death and the grave...we await that day...so let your church be gathered...that all may be fed..."
I've never seen a pastor cry at communion before. For a moment I felt embarrassed, but then I thought: what better time to cry than communion? What better time to realize how much love is coursing through the world than in that exchange?
Handing out the bread there were times I could not get the words out. I distributed communion while tears ran down my face. I suppose it might sound kind of beautiful, except that I'm not a pretty crier. Snot was mixing with tears and I was trying not to drip on the bread. At one point I had to get a 2nd purificator (little holy handkerchief) to wipe my nose. The congregation received the bread with their own mix of smiles and tears. Someone with hands outstretched looked at me with understanding and twinkling eyes. She whispered "bigger piece please" and winked, and then I started laughing too.
As I walked out of church for the second time, singing the same hymn, through the tears I felt the conviction of faith well up. I sang as clearly as I could:
"Yes Lord, I believe, that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who has come into the world."
In the face of grief, there's no greater gift than faith.
Yes Lord, I believe.