Taking a Sunday off from my usual church duties I drove up to Austin to worship at my home congregation, First English Lutheran, with my Mom and Dad. How wonderful - seeing friends in faith I've had since childhood, being in that beautiful, holy space with its brick floors, plaster arches, and wood beamed ceiling. My spirit is refreshed!
Back at my folk's house I learned that one of my Aunts is growing weak. She's in her late 80s and lives far from us. Apparently she fell recently, was too weak to rise on her own and lay on the floor for a full day before help came. As a pastor I have known many people, people dear to me, who have faced similar situations. Dear Gus had a stroke and could have laid in bed for days had not his daughter come by several hours later. It hurt to hear about his suffering.
But this hit closer to home. The news went straight to my stomach like a clenched fist. It lingered in my mind as a cloud of foreboding throughout the day. What does this mean for my Aunt? Can she grow stronger, or is this a step in her progression toward death? I thought of her son and daughter, my cousins, the concern and sorrow they must feel.
Hearing about my Aunt did not just elicit my sympathy, it set me to grappling with mortality - hers, my parents, my own. A person can think about death and dying, but when its presence sweeps close by your home, your family, those thoughts invade your consciousness at a deeper level. If my Aunt has grown this frail how much longer will my own mother and father be mobile, be well, be alive? What will it be like to watch their decline, to lose them? What does this mean for my husband and I - for our bodies, our health, our future?
While I was pondering these things the memory of a hymn from morning worship was running through my head. Although its words do not address my specific concerns, it served as a counterpoint to them. Hearing the melody, the singing, in my mind, I was brought back to Sunday morning - the sense of God's presence, the people gathered in worship and those no longer living. The song seemed to wrap around everything with a word of hope, a reminder of the One we trust and of his promises.
"Christ be our light! Shine in our hearts. Shine through the darkness. Christ, be our light! Shine in your church gathered today." (text by Bernadette Farrell, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, hymn #715) Without that hymn playing behind my fretting, the world would have been only somber, uncertain, fearful. But from the lift of the tune and the strength of the words, announcing God's reign now and forever, sorrow was softened by the truth of God's love, God's mercy.
Praise to Christ Jesus who is with us today and always.