Friday, August 31, 2012

small smile

   I hang up the phone with a smile on my face.  It’s strange because I’ve just been talking with a woman in my church whose husband has just passed away.  He had suffered a severe stroke some weeks back, had fought hard, but had eventually succumbed to the damage.  I had been up to the hospital to see him.  He was in pain.  Nonresponsive.  In those moments there’s really only one thing you can do.  I lowered myself into the chair at his bedside and began to pray.  Perhaps, more often than not, that is the only thing we are really supposed to do after all.  Surrender the pain, the confusion, the anger: asking the Lord to “come and see” the sorrow, like Mary when she meets Jesus after Lazarus has died.  We find in Mary the invitation each of us has to ask Jesus into our sadness, our grief, our sorrow.  And he comes, himself weeping.  My Saviour isn’t afraid to cry.  We can enter into the grieving together.

   Death has a way of infiltrating our senses.  The colour of the wall looks muted.  Familiar sounds dull.  We find ourselves doing menial tasks without much thought—keeping busy, I suppose—or we’re crumpled, deflated, emptied of all that feels good and right.  I remember hearing the news that my Grandpa Cain had died.  I think it was the first day of school, 1999.  Dad told me.  I was standing in the kitchen by the dishwasher, myself suddenly awash with a strange mixture of relief and sadness: relieved that the pain and sickness were finally over; sad that it had ever happened at all.  Lord, come and see.

   So what caused the smile this morning?  It was the remembrance that beyond the death and pain, there is indeed a light that shines out the clearer.  A light that does not nullify or ignore the potency of such a sting, yet bathes us afresh in memory and witness anew.  The light is hope.  Hope that rushes to the tomb and finds only folded grave-clothes.  Hope that carries still the scars of sorrow, yet is healed and made whole.  Hope that calls friends to a shore-breakfast of the morning’s catch.  Hope not as abstract principle: Hope who is a Person.  That Person who is no longer dead, but living again.  The same Person who promises that same hope for us: that death be forever broken of its power, that life be restored and renewed again in the morning of New Creation.  This is the Hope of Resurrection—made real and alive in Christ himself.  And this is why I smile, for in that simple phone call—a small gesture, attempted by a pastor to bring comfort, to simply be and be still in the presence of those in mourning—I could hear Hope already awakened and alive in her heart.  And it was beginning even then to spill over and fill me with hope.  The pain isn't over, certainly.  But it is no longer all that is.
“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tower high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”  -  J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
Amen.  Come and see us, Lord Jesus, come and see.