|Is this wat I was craving 4 all this time?|
One, of course, was for Tracy. The other was for the father of a former parishioner of mine who also had a tragic, unexpected, unintended, unattended death. To make matters worse, there had been family tensions and estrangements and no communication for the past five years.
He had moved to another state, so it fell to his two estranged daughters and his former wife of forty-plus years, to fly through two time zones, clean up the mess - well, multiple messes - and bring his cremains back to New Jersey.
One Service was held in a Funeral Home, in front of the open casket. The other was in the church in the neighborhood where the girls grew up and were confirmed. The wooden urn with an engraved brass plaque stood on a small table with a small bouquet of colorful flowers from his grandchildren.
I was pleasantly surprised by the hospitality of both staffs. The Funeral Director met me at the door and wanted to make sure I had everything I needed - was there anything he could get for me? The rector or staff of the church had everything - Eucharistic vessels, bread and wine, Paschal candle, Gospel book, BCP and Hymnal, stand for the urn - ready for me, including an alb, and white stole and chasuble which was neatly laid out on the back pew.
Hospitality is a great gift - especially when bestowed upon a stranger.
Both congregations were very small. Just a handful of people who were seeking solace and some comfortable, familiar words to ease the pain of their grief and sorrow and, perhaps, explain the unexplainable - the unthinkable, unsettling knowledge of the fact that their loved one died alone. Unexpectedly. Unintended.
I found myself comforted by the words in John 14:1-6:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going."I confess that I left off the "No one comes to the Father except through me." I'm sure that this is the way John remembers it - or, the followers of John remembered the words of Jesus that were told to them. I just have a hard time believing that Jesus said that.
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
Unless, of course, Jesus was using hyperbole - as he often did - to make his point. Either way, I think Elie Wiesel was probably closer to what Jesus meant when he said, "There are many paths but one way to God."
Because both "congregations" were so small, a full manuscript seemed not only a bit of an overplay, but also not pastorally sensitive or wise. People who are grieving need the preacher to be fully present Making eye-contact. Speaking from a prepared heart. It also needs to be short. Very short. Five minutes - tops.
I find that absolutely terrifying. Yes, even after all these years.
Not the eye contact or being fully present. I can do that with a manuscript from the pulpit in a small room of people or a packed house. But, there is no pulpit in a funeral home, and when there are less than a dozen people in church, preaching from a pulpit seems waaAAaay too formal.
I don't remember exactly what I said, but I do remember beginning by talking about the first time I had a "room of my own". I am the oldest of four children. My mother had each of us just about two years apart. We lived in a three bedroom apartment above my grandparents.
When my brother was old enough to be out of the crib in my parents bedroom and into a bed, he got his own room. We forever called him "The Little Prince" after that. You should know that our teeth were clenched together when we said that.
When my baby sister was born, I dreaded the day when she would be moved out of her crib in my parent's bedroom and somehow share a room - and a bed - with one of her two sisters.
It just seemed so unfair! An injustice of enormous, historical (or, at least, hysterical) proportions for a seven year old girl.
I was a pragmatist about it, however. I knew there was no sense complaining. I mean, what were they supposed to do with one of the three girls - put us on the roof?
Much to my surprise and absolute delight, I came home from school one day to find that my father had fixed up a room - just for me - in the attic! Oh, the walls were bare and there was one bare light bulb that hung in the center of the bare ceiling with a long string attached to the toggle.
There was no central heat or air conditioning but, you know, I never remember being too hot or too cold. It was just right, just like the Baby Bear of the Three Bears. Besides, I had a huge feather comforter on my bed which kept me toasty warm in the winter. (That's why they call it a 'comforter'). When the summer nights were too hot, we all slept out on the porch, anyway.
It wasn't a palace for the Princess I knew myself to be, but it had everything I needed and could have wanted. I was 'home'. Safe. Secure.
Whenever I feel sad or lonely or scared, I often revisit the image of that room in my head and in my heart. It's my 'safe place' where I can cry or think or not feel lonely any more. I LOVED that room - more than any other room I've had since. It was mine. My father had made it so, just for me.
I think we all have places in the heart like that - the image of a room that was once our own - or, might be our own. And, I think, many of us spend the rest of our lives trying to get (back) to that room. Or, at least, the feeling we had when we were in that room, where we feel we are home. Safe. Comforted with our own 'stuff'.
Which, by the way, is why hospitality is so important to the stranger. "Make yourself at home," we say, in as many concrete ways as we can demonstrate that hospitality, knowing that the only way someone will truly feel home is when they are, in fact, home.
|Being Lady Lucy|
And yet, Jesus says, not to worry. Well, more accurately, "Do not let your hearts be troubled."
"In my Father's house, there a many rooms".
See? We're all going home, one day.
Jesus says that not only will we get home but when we do, there will be room enough for us all. We'll have our own room. Everything that is meaningful to us will be there. All the necessities will be provided.
We'll be safe.
There's an old saying that 'All sickness is home sickness'.
I believe that to be true. We're all just trying to get home.
Jesus knew that about the human enterprise. He said, "Follow me! I'll show you the way! Because, where I'm going, there you will also be. I'm going on ahead of you and I'll get things ready for you. God and I will have a place - a room of your own - waiting for you. And, oh, what a great homecoming there will be when you arrive!"
Sometimes, our anxieties about that get in the way of The Way, The Truth and The Life, and lead us onto different paths. Some of us drink or eat a little too much as a source of comfort. Some of us are comforted by lots of 'stuff' - and, the more expensive the 'stuff' the better we feel about ourselves.
Sometimes, we say or do things we later regret. Somewhere in our hearts where 'home' really is we betray what we know is our best selves.
It makes us sick. Homesick.
Even so, we are loved and forgiven and will be welcomed in heaven, no matter what path life takes us in order to get there. There are many paths, but one way to God. For Christians, Jesus is that Way - no matter how many detours we take.
That's pretty much what I remember saying to both "congregations" - or something very close to it.
As I reflect on it this morning, back home now, in Llangollen, our wee cottage on Rehoboth Bay, I marvel at how terrified I was to preach without a manuscript but how very much at home I felt, standing there without a note in front of me in the middle of a Funeral Home and in the midst of a church where I had never either preached or presided.
I won't be repeating that anytime too soon - please God - but I discovered, once again, that home is where the heart is. And, my heart is at home preaching and trying to live the gospel of Jesus Christ - whether or not I have a manuscript or am, as they say, 'winging it' from a prepared heart.
It's good to be home again. Here at Llangollen. With all my own stuff. In my own bed. Ah, my own bed! My own pillows! My own smells on my own sheets! That's all I really need.
See? I really am still just that seven year old girl with her own room and her own bed in the attic of my grandparents' tenement house.
If something awful happens tomorrow and I lose my home and everything in it to a tragic accident, I also live in sure and certain hope - and renewed confidence - that I have a home wherever my heart is.
Of course, I have the luxury of saying that because I have my own home. That's not true for the large and growing numbers of faceless, nameless people whom we call "the homeless".
I can't imagine how acutely homesick one must feel having to depend on the kindness and charity of others who are doing it not so much because of the gospel or in the name of justice, but because it makes them feel good to "do unto others".
Some of us are lost even when we think we're on the right path.
Jesus assures us that, no matter what our state or condition while we are on this earth, we have an eternal home with Him no matter what happens with this one life we have been given to live.
Even so, it's good to be here.
In this place.
At this time.