Well, it probably wouldn’t look like it on the surface… this week was dominated by the sudden passing of Gilbert Smickle, the brother of our clerk of session at UPC. It was painful, and it certainly was occasion for more than a few tears and sighs too deep for words. And yet, I am consistently overwhelmed by the goodness of God and the power of community in this sad times. For quickly on the heels of the tears were stories with great power, power enough to sustain and remind us of connections between the family and friends of the departed, power that knit us all together as one family, a body of Christ, rather than isolating any one person.
I am amazed, I must admit, by the sacred space that I am privileged to inhabit as a pastor.* I get to be a part of this journey in a way that I could never have anticipated. Sure, I sit with families in the midst of terrible, horrible, gut-wrenching grief, and sometimes it is true that I am asked to ferry the lost and the despairing the through the dark night of the soul that seems it may never end (in case you are wondering: I have not special powers or experience in this mysterious territory–all I can do is point to the light and hope folks someday will see it… all I can do is be honest and real and present, which often feels like doing nothing, feeling helpless, and holding trembling hands or rubbing tired shoulders). But I also get an inside look at the joy that the departed has left behind–and when we are lucky, there is much joy to go around.
This week was tearful, yes, but it was also one of great joy. I was and am honored to have been able to be a part of it, and it is my prayer that all such departures can be as graceful, faith-filled, and beautiful as Gilbert’s was in our beautiful sanctuary, with these beautiful saints, today.
*speaking of which, who would have thought that the rites that come at the end of life would end up being a space in which I felt so at home? Death seems scary when it only happens to other people, and by the grace of God I count it a blessing that in my work death comes running straight at me, and those who are left behind cannot be ignored. I think many more on this earth might feel less scared of death if they were given the opportunity to face it and talk about it as openly as I need to in my own ministry.