We have waited these last few months with great anticipation for the article about St. Thomas to appear in "Our State" magazine. It arrived in the mail this week and as we all opened to the article, were not disappointed. The photographic art by Lissa Gotwals and the reflection written by Susan Stafford Kelly couldn't help but remind us of what a special place St. Thomas is. For those of us who are members, it is easy to walk into our lovely sanctuary and forget all of those who have gone before; but Ms. Kelly reminds us as she gently walks through our history not only as a congregation but as citizens of our great country.
My reflection on the article is this, how often do I take for granted the beauty that surrounds me? Too often I am afraid to admit. As a newbie here in North Carolina and as the rector at St. Thomas, I feel as if I have never lived anywhere else. It is difficult to describe what makes St. Thomas so delightful, peaceful and indeed soulful. This is the fifth parish I have served and each has had their own personality and life but nothing in my estimation compares to St. Thomas. When pressed to understand what it is, for me it is the scent of the ages as I walk through the doors. The wood, the brick, the whitewashed walls all cause me to pause and reflect on the past, live in the present and look to the future.
Was that not what the settlers of the town of Bath did when they constructed the church? Our little parish home was what gave the citizens of the town of Bath a place to gather just as Kelly points out in her reflection. Things I have often taken for granted since my arrival and I will certainly try to not fall into complacency again.
One of my favorite things to do when I enter the sanctuary is to first marvel at our beautiful altar, it's dark wood against the whitewashed walls and to then breathe in the history of this place. My second favorite thing to do is to view our Guest Book and read where the people who have visited are from. Often times my breath is taken away to read someone's name from Italy or the UK and I am humbled to know they have found peace and tranquility in our sanctuary.
In Genesis 28:16-17 Jacob upon awaking from a dream of a ladder extending to heaven and angels ascending and descending says, "The Lord was in this place and I did not know it." When I walk into the church that passage comes to my mind and I hope those who have not always had a good experience of church, and there are many, will walk into our place and know that the Lord is truly in this place. They not only know it but live it and feel it just as those of us who are fortunate to worship at St. Thomas do each and every Sunday. The Lord is truly in this place and we do know it.
This past Sunday we celebrated the retirement of our long-time parish administrator and the Sunday liturgy was a celebration of her service to the church and the body of Christ. As I began to preach about Marty, a member nudged his spouse and said, "It sounds like a eulogy." In a way it was a sort of eulogy or rather tribute to all of Marty's contributions to the life of St. Thomas. It was a wonderful day celebrating a true servant of God.
The bigger question which has rattled around in my heart and mind, is this: Why do we wait to tell the world about someone, their gifts and attributes after they are dead? The beautiful thing about Sunday was Marty didn't have to wait until she was dead to celebrated. We chose to celebrate her right now while she was in midst of us. We told her how much she meant to us and even though she is leaving, she is not leaving our hearts and minds. I believe that is a good thing and not done enough over the course of someone's life. We sit at funerals and hear family members tell about the deceased and I know I often think, "Now that is someone I would have like to have known while he was alive." Instead I am hearing about him at a time when he can't realize what an impact he had on the world. I think it is a shame to share someone's story with the world after they have died and can't hear it.
Perhaps what we need is a conscious effort to tell someone when he is among us just how much we value his presence. How he makes a real difference in our lives and that the world is a better place because he is in it walking alongside us. I don't give advice but in this instance I will: Don't wait for a death to proclaim to all how someone has been a faithful presence in your life. Tell that person today and better yet tell others in his presence, with all the negativity swirling in our world today, it is time to add some positive energy to our existence, we never know the difference we may make.
“What are we going to do, now that he is gone? Who will keep us on task and who will be the one to lead us? Who will teach?” He shouted this at the top of his lungs as his fist banged down on the table. Who do you think said this? Peter, James or perhaps John lamenting the loss of Jesus? No, it was Harry Hopkins talking about the death of President Roosevelt. Roosevelt is seen as a savior figure for the free world and rightly so. He saved us from the Great Depression and from the tyranny of Fascism in Nazi Germany. Roosevelt did save the world but, he was a human leader filled with human frailties; Jesus of course is God.
Imagine if you will the disciples locked away fearing for their very lives feeling like Harry Hopkins. Just what are they going to do? We often deride them for their cowardice but their experiences and feelings are one we can all understand and maybe we have even seen a bit of in ourselves. When we have so trusted someone and invited him into our lives, confusion, sadness, bitterness and even anger have a way of overtaking us. The disciples have all those feelings after watching Jesus die on the cross. This would have been the perfect time for them to turn on one another and blame one another for what took place. But Jesus taught them well and they stayed together, ministering to each other through their collective grief.
I have thought not to look at Jesus only through the lens of the crucifixion is because that is only half of the story. The whole Jesus is the person who had friends; got into arguments and yes even sassed his mom. If I see Jesus as the ultimate victim of humankind’s need to kill someone who was innocent, I miss the whole story of the resurrection. Yes Jesus died on the cross but his death was only the beginning. The beginning for me of what is a life of freedom to be the person God wants me to be. Jesus’ death is for me the unending amount of love God has to give me and indeed all of the world. I do not minimize his death, but I don’t allow it to define my faith. I want more from Jesus and indeed more from myself.
What are we going to do? Those words of Hopkins ring in my ears each day and I will work tirelessly for Jesus’ vision of heaven on earth. I will not let the crucifixion be my sole focus, I will let Jesus’ life and example be my soul focus.