13 december 2018: grief comes in advent

This week our hearts are broken. Doubly, if that's possible. This week, we've experienced the death of two faithful Woodsiders, one of our longest-tenured and one of our newest. 

Jim Abbott was a life-long Woodsider, baptized in the old chapel on East Court Street when he was a child, more than 50 years ago. He was a former treasurer and finance chair, a perpetual usher and greeter, making people feel welcome when they walked in the door, and often the one to call when an emergency required a key to something. 

Kat Morgan joined by Affirmation of Baptism just this year, November 4, All Saints Sunday, during our very first worship in our new Garland Street tire store. She participated in the adult forum, reading and pondering important social issues. Often the first to arrive and among the last to leave, she would help with whatever needed to be done, to help us worship well. 

Kat and Jim both brought light and joy to the congregation; both lived lives of saying yes, stepping up and helping out, finding family in the grace and fellowship of this congregation. Both recently joined a Woodside pilgrimage to Alabama, a Civil Rights retreat. Or reckoning. 

In the days before death became evident, Jim talked about his thankfulness in knowing that he could count on Woodsiders to care for him, to help him tend to errands, to provide for daily needs during a difficult time. He felt the congregation's love. 

In our membership classes in September, Kat talked about finding home at Woodside, safety and comfort, when life otherwise wasn't all that comfortable or safe. She found it possible to be herself, and found unconditional love which is maddeningly scarce in communities of faith. She posted a photo of her membership certificate on her facebook page the day she joined, so happy was she to belong to this congregation. 

Blessed by us, they blessed us in return, in all the ways we felt loved and tended by them. 

We spend a lot of time being joyful here at Woodside. Righteously indignant, sure, but even in our political frustration and social justice annoyance, we find joy in being together, being on a path together. Part of that joy is knowing that we are able to be a place of welcome for others. Part of the joy is being surrounded by this community of grace. I cannot tell you how much that means to me; I hear from you that you feel it, too. 

But this week, joy is hard. 

When death happens, I often hear in my head the scriptures that are so common at funerals: 

Jesus said in God's mansion there are many rooms. "I'm going to prepare a place for you." 

John wrote in the Revelation of the new heaven and new earth, and how God will wipe every tear from our eyes.

Isaiah imagined a feast of rich wine and fat foods on the mountain of God, and death being swallowed up forever. 

The psalmist sang that God is our shepherd and we will not live in fear, but we will live in God's house forever. 

In these weeks of Advent, we hear other scriptures, too, especially my favorite, Isaiah: Comfort my people, says God; tell them that their war is over.... Those who wait for God shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

Consolation is hard to come by. Not only because we've lost Jim and Kat, but because of all that can get out of whack or cause us pain: parents and jobs and friends and relationships and broken promises and broken dreams. But even as we grieve, we hope. Sometimes walking without fainting is the most we hope for. Just being on our feet one more day. Such is the season of Advent.  

I know we are all over the place in imagining what life beyond death might look like. I am too. I personally find hope and comfort in a particular passage from Romans; it seems enough to me that "nothing can separate us from the love of God that we experience in Jesus." Sometimes, in my mind, that looks like death pitching us into an abyss, when we then we fall into the arms of God. Or walking a path accompanied by a most comforting presence we cannot name. Maybe it means our spirit joins with the One Spirit that animates us all, our breath becomes someone else's breath; perhaps we become life for someone who is struggling to breathe. But I don't know. 

I do know that I trust God. I find great comfort in knowing that we have each other, this community of hope and grace. Today I offer you this traditional prayer, which I've said for Jim and for Kat, and now for you, for us: 

O God, support us all the day long of this troubled life, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over and our work is done. Then, God, in your mercy, grant us a safe lodging, a holy rest, and peace at the last. 

Breathing, walking, hoping, falling, resting, feasting, weeping. 

With you on a journey to peace, 

- pastor deb