January 23rd, 2013
• No Comments
“Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea.” Psalm 46:2
We’ve been through a season of deaths this fall, and it continues in the winter. I can’t say it’s been my best fall. At the same time, I’ll acknowledge that planning funerals with families, hearing stories, allowing people the space and time to weep affords a certain satisfaction.
My role means among other things that I am present sometimes during the last hours that people are alive. Sometimes they are able to converse; more often they are not. So I simply try to be present with the person and any family present.
I learned long ago that I don’t have answers to the questions people sometimes ask. Why does anyone die at a particular time? I just don’t know. All I know is that God is present in those moments in a way I don’t fully comprehend and certainly don’t control.
In profound ways the issue of control is at the heart of our approach to death. As active, accomplished and accomplishing people, letting go is often the hardest thing we do in our lives.
We have opportunities to practice along the way, notably with our children, and often with our spouse, whom we usually discover is less susceptible to our control than we might have imagined going in. Most of us have to answer to other people in our vocations, and not infrequently become frustrated that we don’t have more control over bosses or coworkers or customers. Friends and neighbors can present similar challenges.
I may be wrong, but I think the people who deal with death best (and what does that mean?) are those who have learned to let go when it’s needed. The trick is learning when it’s needed.
Churches in my experience face the same issue: when is it time for one group or another, one individual or another to let go and step aside? It shows up in any number of ways.
Around Brown Woodbrook I’ve seen that struggle emerge around our relationship to the Weekday School, re-landscaping the strip along Charles St., and moving the pews in Speers Chapel to other places to make the chapel a flexible, multiple-use space.
The core issue is change. Those of you who have worked and given and attended and sent your children to preschool and prayed and married and buried family here may worry that if too much changes, you won’t have the same place as your church; and future generations won’t have the same place that nurtured you. The prospect of that kind of change is frightening, at least for some. It makes some feel out of control; it makes some feel unwanted or unnecessary; it makes some feel abandoned or forgotten.
Church is the place for some where change is the hardest, because it’s the one place in our lives where we want stability. The rest of our lives seem to be in constant change. But if the church can be our one refuge from change, then we can feel more secure. We see the church as a lifeboat, or as a safe harbor, or as a fortress.
But what if change is a key characteristic built into the created order? God says, “1Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing” (Isaiah 43:18-19). “The grass withers, the flower fades… Surely the people are grass… but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:7-8). “Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the LORD said to me, ‘Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant’” (Jeremiah 1:9-10).
I could go on for a long time quoting verses. The point is, our hope is not in a row of trees, or a building, or an order of worship, or a particular group of people. Our hope is in the Lord who made heaven and earth. There is no fortress or sanctuary so permanent and secure that it can defy the passage of time. Only God’s word can outlast our arrangements. And God’s word is, “Do not be afraid.” “I am with you.” “You are my people.” “I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever” (Revelation 1:18).
Change is a given, like death. Our key choice is how we meet it, not whether we do.
Grace and peace, Jamie