Together in Christ
“7We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. 8If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.” (Romans 14:7-9)
The words in the first two verses above, written by Paul in his letter to the Romans, are also one of the opening anthems in the Burial Office. If they sound familiar, you have probably heard them when you have attended a funeral in the Episcopal Church.
“For none of us has life in himself, and none becomes his own master when he dies. For if we have life, we are alive in the Lord, and if we die, we die in the Lord. So, then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s possession.” (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 491)
Paul adds, as you see above, “For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.” (Romans 12:9)
This Friday will be exactly three months since Julia died. Just typing that sentence brings tears to my eyes, a catch in my breath, a heavy feeling in my stomach. What an emotional rollercoaster these last three months have been. I am reading at least four books on grief right now. They have been offered to me by my sister, Adele, and three friends (two of you from St. Luke’s - thank you!). I am reading Resilient Grieving, by Lucy Hone (written after her 12-year-old daughter was killed in a car accident), A Grief Observed, by C.S. Lewis (written after his wife died), In Memoriam, by Henri J.M. Nouwen (written after his mother died), and Comfort for the Grieving Spouse’s Heart, by Gary Roe (written after his wife died). Reading these books - slowly, contemplatively - is helping me. Maybe the most helpful thing is that these authors are helping to normalize my experience. I am learning that the feelings and thoughts and questions that I have… that being tired, wondering what the future might hold, the gift of having work to do right now, the gratitude I have for being married to Julia for almost 35 years, the gratitude I have for my family and friends, how I can feel alone in a crowd… the times when I just stare off into space (or wonder why I came into a room)… and my new mantra of “one day at a time, one task at a time… can I just do the next task?”… these are all part of the grieving process.
I am not crazy. I am grieving.
I am a Christian and a priest who loves the Word of God. From the time that I asked Christ for help in coming to know him in the summer of 1979 - the summer when I turned 22 - I have been eagerly listening for guidance, for wisdom, for some kind of word from God. I think I knew, even at 22, that hearing a word from God could be and would be life-saving and life-transforming.
The word I am waiting to hear from God right now is a word of reassurance. I want to know that Julia is well, at peace, dancing for joy, even… and still being used by God in all the ways that God used her on this earth - to teach and love both children and adults, to really see people, to listen, to ask open-ended questions that encouraged people to safely “go down and go deep” and to learn important things about themselves. I want to know that she is still laughing and being silly, still crying or getting angry over the estrangement that can and does happen between us as human beings, and between us and God. I want to know that she is still learning and growing.
But mostly I want reassurance that I will see her again. There - I’ve said it. Typing that brings tears to my eyes, too.
And then, this morning - Tuesday morning, July 19, 2022 (I am writing this on Tuesday) - I got up, as is my practice, and read the scriptures for today. And I came upon these words from Roman 14. (The chapters and verses have been put there for our benefit and convenience. Paul was just writing a letter.) It is a chapter where Paul is writing about not judging our brothers and sisters who have a different diet than ours or who might choose to see one day of the week as holier than the other. It is a chapter where he says “Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? … we will all stand before the judgment seat of God” (Romans 14:10) and a chapter that he concludes with “for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23b) It is a chapter in which he is teaching “all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints” (Romans 1:7a) 1) what love looks like in practice, and 2) that we are all one in Christ.
But tucked away in the middle of the chapter are the verses I have quoted above. I find reassurance in these words - as well as in the resurrection appearances of Jesus.
If our loved ones who have died are the Lord’s… and if we who are still walking this earth are the Lord’s… then we are all together in the Lord right now. And because Christ is the Lord of the dead and the living, then one day we will all be reunited forever - in Christ.
Julia and I are together in Christ. You and your loved ones who have died are together in Christ. You and I are together in Christ. This is true when we are worshiping together or eating together or in a class together or serving together, but it is also true that we are together in Christ - across time and space.
This teaching doesn’t take away the sadness I feel when I wake up tomorrow morning and I remember, again, that Julia has died.
But - by God - it sure helps!