With Us Still

Earlier this year, my college classmate Dave died.  I saw a mosaic of photos posted on Facebook, one which included me.  I stared at the photo.  Dave was dead?  My classmate who read this blog, who was irreverent and compassionate at the same time.  The one who wouldn’t let cancer get the best of him because, in his irreverence, he would best it.

For several days, I mourned.  And in my mourning, that sorrow we feel for what can no longer be, I remembered others too.

Nancy was one of the first.  We attended high school Chem Lab together.  Neither of us liked Chemistry, though we enjoyed our friendship.  We encouraged each other, especially when I couldn’t do the math, and she couldn’t write the report.  She’d say, “My lab partner’s no dummy.”  Then, I repeated it, and we plowed through our assignments, getting B’s in Chemistry because we worked together.

Sometimes, when I doubt what I’m doing, Nancy is saying, “My lab partner’s no dummy.”

When I began seminary, I met Barry, a gentle, pastoral soul, who enjoyed poetry, especially the Psalms.  He helped mentor new students, guiding us through summer classes.  He explained theology in ways I understood.  One day, during a term break, I received an email that he died.  I couldn’t believe it.  Barry, my guiding light, the poet, was dead. 

Sometimes, when I work with the Psalms, I can feel Barry near.

Janice died after we were ordained.  We shared several classes together, including Homiletics, where I often sat near her and watched her colour code her sermons with assorted highlighters before she preached.  We studied together, sweating out the angst of ministerial reviews, awaiting word that we’d passed the latest test and could continue on our way. 

Sometimes, when I highlight my sermons, Janice is smiling.

Then, Mona, like my big sister in seminary, died.  I just moved to Florida, not far from where she lived, and I remember her delight in realizing that we’d be reunited and could support each other in ministry, as we did in class.  We celebrated each other’s birthdays, meeting at restaurants where we sat for hours, eating, laughing, talking.  When I expressed impatience or concern about how things would unfold, she laughed, tilted her head, and said, “Well, Jenn, you’ve only been doing this for like 5 minutes.”  I’d shake my head and say, “I know.” 

Sometimes, when I feel impatient, I hear Mona calling my name.

Poet James Dillet Freeman says in his poem, “The Traveler,” that when our loved ones die, they “put on invisibility,” though they’re never truly gone.  In this season of passing over and rising up, let us remember that death isn’t only an end, but a beginning, too.  And that wherever our journeys lead, those we love are with us — still.

© 2019 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Never Alone

Jesus was dead.  This must be distinctly understood or nothing wonderful can follow.

Jesus was dead.  Everyone knew it.  Many of them heard his words, predicting his own demise.  Then they watched him die.  They didn’t want to believe their ears.  Then, they couldn’t believe their eyes.

Even when it’s foretold to us, we doubt the truth.  Especially if the truth is an ending.  In those moments, we may feel we’ve lost our faith.  As we stare into the abyss of the unknown, we may beseech God for comfort.  Often, we doubt God’s power within to guide us through whatever comes next, no matter what the cost.

Our eyes deceive us into believing appearances, rather than promises.  Few of us have the depth of Jesus’s faith: A trust in God so strong that God can deliver us from anything, even death.  Never mind that crucifixion is irreversible.  The only way out is through.  We forget, that with endings, also come beginnings.

Often, we love the joys of Christmas, but struggle with the death which is part of Easter.  Few of us enjoy the mourning process after a death, whether a literal one, or another type of loss or change.  Many of us crave the “And they lived happily ever after” part which comes before “The End.”

Still, something in the Easter story draws us in, because we want to believe in something greater than ourselves, a power and presence which rises up, and continues, even after death.  This is the Presence and Power of God, with us and within us, the Presence and Power I believe Jesus understood.

I’ve thought about this a lot recently, as I’ve been honored to officiate many memorials – including one for a dear friend – and to hold sacred space and trust with those who mourn.  I’ve heard heart-warming stories about each person, what they contributed to the world and who they loved.  At every memorial service, I remind the congregation that those who have died continue to live, because they live on, in us, in all which we are and continue to be, for as long as we live, also.  They’re with us and within us – even though we can’t see them.

This understanding, I believe, is part of the awe the Marys and the 11 Disciples felt when Jesus appeared to them.  When they lifted up their eyes, expanding their vision, they saw Jesus in all his glory.  Then, he gave them the Great Commission, telling them to go forth to share his story and teach his ways of living.  He didn’t want them to mourn or fear.  He left them with this assurance: “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

On Easter, we also remember, Blessed Readers: We are never alone.

Happy Easter!

© 2016 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.