Monday, February 08, 2010

ON death and dying

This column is titled, "A Pastor's Thoughts" and for nearly four years now, I've written weekly about some of the things bouncing around in my brain as I live my life as pastor of the First United Methodist Church here in Krum.

Today, my thoughts have settled on death and funerals and loss. Last week, Martha Sides died. Martha left her elegant and purposeful mark all over Krum, and all over this church that she loved and served so well. From shrubs planted near the front door to furniture in my office to fabrics reflecting the church seasons draping our altar, there is Martha. 

I miss her. I also know that I'm still recovering from the death of Nancy Pollard, who had served as our church administrator until she had to step down last July as she battled an aggressive cancer that finally took her life in December. 

Two funerals, two friends. I am grieving. As pastor, I have the privilege and the responsibility to officiate at funerals and memorial services. I get to repeat the words of Jesus, "I am the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last" and remind people of their hope with these words, "Dying, Christ destroyed our death. Rising, Christ restored our life. Christ will come again in glory. As in baptism Martha (or Nancy or whatever beloved person is before us) put on Christ, so in Christ may she or he be clothed with Glory.” I am grateful for such words; they help me find my own hope in loss.

I know there is life beyond this one. I know the light of Easter morning always follows the darkness of death and loss. That hope sustains me. 

I look at my church community and see how they quickly come to the aid of those who have suffered loss. They bring presence, comfort, meals, prayers. I wonder how people who have chosen to remove themselves from the intimacy and challenge of church and faith life cope with loss and death. 

My husband, a retired clergyperson, serves as the "on-call" pastor for a very large funeral home in Dallas. It is not uncommon for him to serve at two or even three funerals or memorial services a week. He does these services for people who have seen a family member die but have no church community to surround them and help hold them during their sorrow. I'm grateful for his calling in this work; I ache for people who are that disconnected from eternal hope. Like many, they turn to the church for these emergency needs, but give God no thought otherwise. 

I know there are lots of reasons people chose to disconnect from church. One of the most challenging for me to hear is the one that says, "The church didn't meet my needs." The consumer demon wins; there is no thought given to the fact that the purpose of church is not to "meet their needs" but to provide a means to know God and discover a measure of hopeful belief even in the midst of natural and human disbelief and a world that denies spiritual reality, and lives as though physical reality can give answers and ultimate peace. Truly, church only "meets one's needs" when we put down our insistence of having our own needs met and replace it with seeking to serve others. 

Martha Sides lived as an example of this kind of service to others. She loved much, and was much loved in return. I miss her. It brings me grief to know that I will not see her again in this life. Even so, hers was a life well-lived and she did open doors for us to the heavenly places by her life in Christ. May we all do as well, even in our sorrow.

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