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.