Little Christmas

My writing has been delayed this week because I attended my cousin’s wake and funeral this past Sunday and Monday. I’m having a little trouble getting started because the familiar path that I’ve walked with Joe’s family seems more discouraging this time around. Though all concerned truly believe that Joe is completely at peace in the hereafter, saying good-bye took all of the courage that any of us could muster. Joe’s wake evolved into a truly wonderful celebration of his life. Yet the next morning, as we offered our final farewells in the same setting, that celebration gave way to deep mourning. The Mass of Resurrection that followed underscored God’s amazing promises regarding the things to come. Joe himself told me that he wasn’t at all worried about “over there.” Joe knew with all certainty that God would take care. His concern was to fight a valiant fight in order to remain with and to care for his family for as long as he was able. Yet, though our faith is intact, Joe’s wife Pam, their children Nicole and Joey and the rest of us suffered greatly as we attempted to say good-bye. When we gathered at the cemetery, I took note of the absence of snow. This was a blessing as our large contingent wasn’t necessarily dressed for a trek through the white stuff. At the same time, this absence contributed to the barren scene before us and to the emptiness in our hearts.

This morning, I woke up with thoughts of Joe. My much younger cousin exuded life, and I wondered how he and God got along during that first face-to-face encounter. As I imagined my businessman cousin pitching ideas to his Maker who certainly cherishes the winning smile that he gave Joe, I discovered the beautiful snowfall that continues as I write. I thanked God for covering that barren cemetery with this beautiful blanket. Joe’s family lives nearby. If Pam and the kids head over there today, they’ll find a much different scene than we left yesterday. Indeed, everything will be different from now on.

As you entered church this weekend, you may have experienced a sense of the same here. Though a few poinsettias remain, our worship space looks much different than it did just a few weeks ago. The beautiful adornments that announced the Christmas Season so dramatically have given way to the green of a quieter liturgical season. In the absence of the special seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter, the church simply numbers the Sundays in ordinal fashion, one after the other. I suppose we do the same when we reference moments in time in accord with major events in our lives: before or after the wedding; before or after Baby’s birth; before or after we lost our loved one.

As I consider the scripture readings for the coming weeks, I find that God’s best work among us unfolds when our lives change and everything is different. Jesus’ public life began in the waters of the Jordan River most unexpectedly. John the Baptist felt that Jesus should have been the one pouring the water. When Jesus allowed John to baptize him, Jesus set the tone for his public life. Ours is a very “hands-on” messiah who spent himself caring for others. Throughout the three years that followed, Jesus taught that God loves each of us unconditionally and that it is up to us to love one another in the same way. In everything Jesus said and did, he illustrated God’s willingness to embrace us when life is good and when we’re shaken by bumps and pained by bruises along the way. God’s presence in our joy and in our sorrow makes all of the difference in the world when we take it to heart.

The snow contiunes to fall, and my thoughts turn to my cousin once again. I’m grateful for our family’s faith because I know those who miss Joe will cope as a result. Yet, as I consider the life of Jesus, it seems that God wishes much more for us than simply to cope. God presents us with amazing possibilites, and it’s up to us to choose from among them. Certainly, we will mourn Joe’s loss in good conscience. After all, Jesus mourned his cousin John the Baptist and his friend Lazarus. Still, Jesus persisted. As a result of Jesus’ effort, the lonely and the desperate found their hearts filled with new hope and peace and they persisted, too. Could it be that we must do the same in spite of our losses, in spite of our sadness, in spite of not knowing which way to turn? Though I’m quite certain of God’s response, I can almost hear Joe, too. “Absolutely!”

©2011 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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