Sunday, July 10, 2011
Burying My Friends. . .
Such is the story of but one of the many folks who became my friends in the nearly 13 years in New York and the nearly 20 years here in Tennessee... funerals for folks who had touched my heart and life and burying those whom I knew not only as parishioners but as friends in the Lord, dearest friends. I struggle to think of going back to New York because so many of them are now gone. Part of me does not know if I can hold up with the homes lived in by other people, the spaces in the pews now occupied by different folks... So it has been too many years since I have returned.
The other day I had another one. And I will continue to have them (unless the Lord moves me to another parish quick!). I have lost family members and been unable to attend their funerals because of timing or distance. I look at my parents and in-laws and know that every day they are with me I am privileged. Perhaps these realities only magnify the losses and deepen the wounds when I must preside at the funerals of folks I call friends and bury those whose lives have intertwined with me in the most intimate of ways.
Pastors who stay in one place long enough cannot avoid this (unless their hearts are so cold or so insulated that they do not let folks in). In the end it is our own mortality that death exposes. As Herb Mueller put it, "Pastors are dying sinners, too..." Indeed we are. But we do not talk about it much -- not even with our spouses and children. It is, for me, the most wonderful privilege of the Pastoral Ministry and its most painful duty -- to preside at the funerals of those who I count as friends and to lay to rest those whose lives have forever changed my own... I could rattle off a list of names over the course of the next several days and would not get to them all. Sometimes my wife and I find ourselves thinking at the same time of the same person -- now gone -- and our eyes well up with tears as our voices clouded with emotion whisper their names once more...
Too many stories to write them all here, gone but not forgotten... at least not by me... And, thanks be to God, not by God, whose memory has the power to rescue us from death. Those whom the Lord remembers, those precious in His sight, He ushers from death to life in our Lord Jesus Christ. It was not a helpless cry that the thief uttered that Friday called Good. "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom..." In Christ there are no yesterdays, only the todays of His promise, His paradise, and His peace. This is not only the consolation and hope we preach, it is the consolation and hope that sustains us Pastors, too!