(I first posted this three years ago so the story, while true, is not new.)
Yesterday morning I spoke with a friend who had just heard that an old friend of his had died suddenly, leaving a wife and three children. For our purposes here we'll call him Joe. My friend's grief was made even deeper by the fact that despite some strong ties in the past, he and Joe hadn't been in touch for a number of years.
Many of us have found ourselves in similar circumstances and we know the many questions and regrets that fill our minds and hearts. Why hadn't we stayed in touch? We were friends, how did we let that slip away? If I had only... What can I do now? We are left feeling sad and alone. Helplessness and a sense of having failed can overwhelm us...
I looked online for Joe's death notice and found there a cyber guest book in which his friends might leave messages. Among a number of tributes to Joe, two shone brighter than all the others. One message was addressed to Joe's son and read:
I am sorry about your Dad.
He was the best cub scout leader ever.
I will pray for him tonight.
He is safe with GOD.
A few entries later I found Billy's own message:
I love you, Dad!
I found those two notes profoundly moving and beautiful in their simplicity. I was reminded of a prayer from the Order of Christian Funerals (OCF) I quoted in an earlier post:
We believe that all the ties of friendship and affectionWhat death seems to have parted, what time seems to have cut loose, love refuses to surrender. Even the weakest of bonds that connect us with one another in life survive the surprise of sudden unexpected death because God blesses the ties that bind and will not let them pass away.
which knit us as one throughout our lives
do not unravel with death...
For those who believe in your love
death is not the end,
nor does it destroy the bonds you forge
in our lives.
We share the faith of your Son's disciples
and the hope of the children of God...
Sean and Billy are young but they intuitively embrace the hope this prayer offers. They cling instinctively and tenaciously to what bound them to Joe as a scout leader and as a father - and to the bond they share as friends. Perhaps nothing could unsettle their young hearts more than Joe's death but in the face of it they announce their affection for him, promise the support of prayer, affirm their faith in God and cry out their love for the one they have lost.
What these two boys wrote is what Christians refer to as the Communion of Saints. In faith we believe that God's love and presence is constitutive of human life and relationships in the way that breath, bone, muscle and sinew are constitutive of the human body. Nothing can separate us from the love of God and, ultimately, nothing can separate us from bonds once forged in our lives.
So the gospel promises. So Christians profess. So Christians believe.
Still, for Sean, Billy and all of us the questions will come and the questions will haunt: Why? Why my beloved? Why now? What might I have done?" Christ's promise assures us that none of the good in our lives will be lost and that God's mercy is always there for our healing. The death of someone we love brings us to these words from the funeral Mass:
Lord God,Each time we meet the grief and loss that death brings, we have an opportunity to look afresh at the bonds that God, time and experience have forged in our lives, old and new. Taking an inventory of those bonds we need to thank God for the strong ones and work to strengthen the ones that have grown weak. For opportunities missed we can ask for forgiveness and rejoice that one day we shall our loved ones again and enjoy their love when the mercy of God gathers us together again the in joy of his kingdom (OCF).
the death of our brother Joe
recalls our human condition
and the brevity of our lives on earth...
Bring the light of Christ's resurrection
to this time of loss and pain
as we pray for Joe and for those who love him
through Christ our Lord.
Many are the opportunities to strengthen those relationships we've been careless with. As in all things Christian, deep in the death of those we love are the seeds of new life for all the friendships that are ours from God.
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