Faith and Resurrection

This has been a blessed, but difficult, Easter weekend for me, for a multitude of reasons.

As a prelude to this weekend, on Palm Sunday (last Sunday) I served at the altar (wine for communion) at a beautiful service. On Monday we went to see the orthopedic surgeon for Gail’s damaged left knee and learned that instead of needing to have simple arthroscopic surgery in the near future, it will probably require replacement sometime after her forthcoming spinal fusion. He did give her a steroid shot in the knee and it has helped her mobility and relieved her pain considerably. That was a blessing. Tuesday we went to the dentist, and though I was fine after cleaning and x-rays, Gail learned that she also needs a root canal and five crowns, and will get them later this month. We have great medical insurance, but almost no dental insurance. You can do the math. One more medical adventure. The rest of the week was regular playing bridge and watching TV and reading.

We didn’t go to the Maundy Thursday or Good Friday services and did other things instead, mostly watching basketball. Last night we went to the Great Vigil of Easter, my favorite church service of the year. It is done after dark, and the church is dark. Last Sunday’s palms are burned to provide ashes for next year’s Ash Wednesday, and the candles for the altar are lit from the fire. All of the congregation are given a candle when they come in. At an appropriate time in the service all of the candles are lit, one from another, to represent the return of the Light of Christ at the resurrection. It is very moving and beautiful, even if you’re not much of a church goer. That service is particularly significant to me as I was confirmed in the Episcopal Church at that service in the Spring of 1984.

At the Vigil service the homily (sermon) was given by Rev. Dr. Douglas Gregg. Doug talked about how his father had died when Doug was 19, just as my father did when I was 17. We both went on with our lives and never really dealt with it. When Doug was in his 40s and a pastor he had a “vision” or “dream” about his father and Jesus that helped him come to terms with his loss. When I was in my 40s, after joining the church and restoring my childhood faith in God, I was watching a rental movie, “Field of Dreams”, at a girlfriend’s house, along with her young children. I knew nothing about the movie. When Costner’s father emerges from the cornfield and walks onto the ball field I totally lost it. Everything came back to me, and I sobbed uncontrollably lying on her floor for almost half an hour. She sent the children to bed, telling them they could see the rest of it the next day. We finally talked about my past, and I finally got through the end of the film a couple of hours later. After the service I hugged Doug and thanked him for his sermon, and we reassured each other we’ll talk again before too long.

We both know we will see our fathers again “soon”. No, that doesn’t mean we expect to leave this life “soon” in mortal terms (Doug is a few years older than I am), but in the view of eternity, anything in this life is “soon”. Thinking about seeing those who have passed on soon particularly reminded me of the passing of my youngest brother, Gary Lester, who left this life two years ago yesterday (Holy Saturday), just a week after his 58th birthday. He left his family here to join our sister Diana Lester Brown and other brother, Irving Lester, in the next life. Having the second anniversary of Gary’s passing being the day before Easter Sunday was reassuring to me. I know that most Easter Sundays won’t be that close to the anniversary, it was particularly helpful to me today. And Doug and I both are well aware that none of us are promised where we will live tomorrow, whether on this earth with our loved ones, or in eternity with other loved ones.

This morning Gail and I went back to church to serve as greeters and ushers for the biggest service of the year, Easter Sunday, where we had a record turnout of 189. As I was driving, a most appropriate song came on the radio, Randy Travis’ “Three Wooden Crosses”. Whether you already know the song or not, please take a listen. The song is a perfect story of redemption and a lost soul finding the way to go. That was a perfect prologue to the service. In her homily Rev. Dr. Catherine Gregg talked about how we understand Jesus as fully human and fully divine. She used an example I’d never thought of before. Although she made clear that Superman isn’t divine or Jesus or God, there are many similarities, with Clark Kent being the mild mannered reporter and Superman, his other side, able to do things that the rest of us can’t do. He is both fully Clark Kent and fully Superman, just as Jesus is both fully Human and fully Divine.

Catherine also talked about living in “heaven” and living in “the real world”, and how many of us do both. As one who used to live, pastor, and teach in seminary in Southern California, she used the example of the contrast between the “heaven” of some beach communities with sun, sand, and beautiful people and the “real world” hell of East LA, Santa Ana, and other terrible places. That reminded me very well of we are fortunate to live in “heaven” instead of “the real world”, even though we’ve been blessed to never live in some of the more hellish places in this country or elsewhere. When we traveled last year and saw the conditions in India, Togo and Benin, we realized even more how blessed we are. St. George is clean, quiet, peaceful, and full of loving people. It isn’t perfect, but it is as close to heaven as I expect to get in this life.

This has been a most beautiful, emotional, and wonderful several days, both sad and happy, but ultimately joyous and reassuring.

The Prodigal Son and My Life

 Today’s assigned Gospel reading from the Revised Common Lectionary used by many churches was the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  Rev. Dr. Catharine Gregg, our priest at Grace Episcopal Church here in St. George, talked about how each of us are all the characters in the story.  If you don’t know or recall the story, Jesus tells of a wealthy father who has two sons, each of whom will receive half of his property when he dies.  The younger son wants to head off to the big city and asks father for his half in advance, which he gets.  The son goes off and spends it all and ends up destitute.  He realizes his error and decides he can be poor back home instead of in the big city.  The younger son heads home and apologizes for his stupidity.  His father is thrilled to see him, and throws a big party.  The older son, who has been slaving for Dad for years while his wastrel brother has been gone partying, is not happy at all.  He is full of resentment.  

 
Does any of this sound familiar?  Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung have taught us that when we dream we are all of the people in the dream, coming together in one “story” that may or may not make sense.  And in the same way, all of us are all of the people in the Prodigal Son parable.  I know that I am, or have been, all of them at various times in my life. How can this be?
 
I’m a father, and have had two prodigal children.  One is my child, one a stepchild, but have experienced the father’s situation with each.  One spent years on the streets, using and abusing drugs and his body in various ways. We wouldn’t hear from him for months at a time and Gail would never know if he was alive somewhere or dead in a ditch or a pauper’s graveyard as a “John Doe”. Eventually he came home and kicked the things he was abusing and has become successful in a career and continues to learn and grow as an adult, father, and employee.  We were not as immediately celebrating as the father in the parable, but we’re also not The Father.  But we have continued celebrating in the long run.
 
My daughter also spent years as an addict to methamphetamine and assorted other unsavory behaviors.  We feared for her life as well, as many meth addicts die from the effects of the drugs.  We also feared that she might spend many years in prison.  Fortunately she was arrested and finally got straight with the help of a program in the county jail.  We were so happy when she kept on the proper path and eventually found the right man to help parent her son and to provide her with another child in the near future.    The prodigal children have come home, and we’re blessed by that.  We know that all too many don’t come home.
 
I’ve also been the older brother in this story.  I’m actually the oldest of six siblings. Although none of my five younger brothers and sisters have had lives that would qualify as prodigal, there have certainly been times when I had resentments or bad feelings to each of them.  We all have our own strengths and weaknesses, and there have been many times I wished I had any or all of their strengths. In the long run I believe I’ve gotten past those feelings, and instead now have more than a little survivor guilt, as three of them have already died of cancer in their fifties. There have been plenty of other times in my school and work life where I’ve really resented that someone else got something I wanted, but didn’t get. Over the years I’ve learned that life is not fair, and often remind others that “If your mama promised you life would be fair she was lying or stupid”.  Fortunately neither of my parents taught me that life would be fair.  
 
I’ve also been the younger brother, even though I was biologically the oldest. I went to several colleges and changed majors several times before finally settling on a major as an undergrad and in grad school.  As our father died two months after I graduated high school, I went to college on scholarships, loans, and a little bit of money from Mom. However, she was home teaching school and raising five children on very little money.  Although I never heard it at the time, when I came home for holidays my siblings were happy since they said when I came home they had meat for supper. Mom confirmed that in later years that they frequently didn’t have meat since it was expensive, or if they did it was hot dogs of something else very inexpensive.  So here I was, the unknowing prodigal son who came home to visit, and not even stay. Although I was married before the youngest got to college, I have been told that continued to be the situation when I came home with a wife and son.  
 
I’d never realized before that I was all of the characters in the Parable of the Prodigal Son before, but as I was listening it really sank in. Even at 70, I hope to keep on learning like I did today.