In many ways, the life of a pastor is marked by its routine: between the regular task of planning, preparing and leading Sunday worship (what one colleague aptly refers to as “the pesky, perpetual, predictable and persistent return of the Sabbath”) and the day to day work of knowing and caring for the congregation as we live and grow together in Christ, there’s a cyclical quality to it all that has always seemed to me to be both imbued with divine presence and a true blessing.
Granted, it’s not all that regular and predictable: there are times and seasons of the church year that are busier than others (think Christmas, Easter and for some strange reason – and this is true for just about every church I’ve served – the entire month of May!); and yes, I can attest that there have beenthose occasional circumstances over the years when all manner of ecclesiastical routine gets tossed out the [stained glass] window and the “blessing” has all the appearance of barely controlled chaos!
But I can also tell you that these are often the moments that God’s presence is at its most powerfully palpable.
Over the past couple of weeks here at East Church we’ve been thrilled and privileged to witness and celebrate the marriages of two brides, both young women who grew up in this congregation, each to their respective grooms in two beautiful ceremonies amongst family and friends. One of these ceremonies took place in the sanctuary itself, while the other happened in a beautiful outdoor “sacred space” at a family home; and both were filled with all the laughter, tears and loving spirit that’s part and parcel of a beautiful wedding day. It also happened, however, that amidst all the preparations leading up to these two big events, another member of our church family, a long-time trustee and a well-loved member of the community, passed away after a long and valiant struggle with Parkinson’s Disease.
His memorial service was set to take place at the church on the day before the first wedding, followed by words of committal at the cemetery and a luncheon in the Fellowship Hall; all of this unfolding just a few short hours before the wedding rehearsal was to begin. So to be honest, things were a bit hectic as one group left the church and we got the sanctuary ready for another to enter; and in all honesty, part of me wondered how we could possibly make a proper transition between one event that by its very nature is a solemn gathering filled with sadness and grief, and the other, which in anticipation of one of life’s great celebrations, is often marked by some confusion and more than a little silly laughter! Speaking both pastorally and personally, I did not wish, on the one hand, to be disrespectful of those who were in mourning, and yet on the other to put any kind of damper on what ought to be one of the quintessential days of joy for any family!
But I needn’t have worried, because as the day progressed I was reminded that these two events were actually two sides of the same celebration; and I can say this because God was present on both occasions!
For the same God who honestly and deeply shares our pain in times of loss, and who brings hope to drive away our despair, also rejoices in the gift of love is made real in two people committing themselves to a life of loving faithfulness to one another. The “sure and certain promises” made by God of life both abundant and eternal goes hand in hand with the assurance that “for better or worse” we are given “a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7) that will strengthen us in all our relationships. Understanding this, I also have to believe that the same Lord, who with full heart and outstretched arms, welcomes his child to that place of peace and rest that he’s prepared for him and for us all surely must be there in that amazing eruption of tears and laughter that always seems to accompany the traditions of vows made, rings exchanged and, of course, a kiss to seal the covenant!
All I know is that all through that weekend, in both the sorrow and the rejoicing, in loving remembrance and memories made, God was right there in the midst of it; bringing hope, peace and especially joy to the proceedings, increasing our fellowship with one another while deepening our relationship with him.
The mother of the bride (who along with the bride’s father was in attendance at the memorial service in the morning and then returned in the afternoon for their daughter’s wedding rehearsal!) said to me that in many ways the day felt like a perfect example of “the circle of life;” and I would have to agree. After all, life is a journey that is in constant movement from one transition to another: babies are born; they grow up to have lives and families of their own; generations pass; and eventually and inevitably, we return home to the place from which we’ve come, to dwell “in the house of the Lord forever.” (Ps. 23:6). It’s all part of an unavoidable truth that nothing stays the same for very long; and that whether we’re talking the work of ministry (whatever form that takes!), or the day to day business of living, any semblance of routine is often short-lived and chaos can easily ensue at any given time.
That’s why it’s so very good that the true blessing of it all comes in knowing that come what may, the Lord will be present in it!
c. 2014 Rev. Michael W. Lowry