I found out yesterday that a friend of mine in Texas died. It wasn’t a surprise – she was ninety-five years old and pneumonia had set in a few days ago. Her name was Frances and she was a member of my church in Texas. Her husband had been a pastor, and together they had been missionaries in Japan for decades. She was a person who had lived in many places and parsonages and we were kindred spirits in many ways, regardless of our age difference. When my mom died, Frances was a comforting, mothering presence in my life over the years that followed. I loved to sit with her in her nursing home room and we would work on crossword puzzles together or just talk. My boys would bring her handfuls of flowers they picked for her, and she grand-mothered them – exclaiming over them and making them feel special and loved, as children ought to feel.
It was agonizing for us to say “goodbye” to her when we left Texas, but she understood how we longed to be back in our homeland. After all, she and her husband had done the same thing – served churches in different places but their roots called them home to Texas. When we left a year ago, I knew I would likely never see her again here on earth, and now I know this is true.
So, while I’m physically here in my office in Minnesota, admittedly my mind is drifting back to our church in Texas today, and thinking about how her memorial service will be. Some other pastor will commit her body to its’ resting place later this week. Someone will climb up the steep stairs into the old balcony and ring the bell 95 times as she is brought from the church out to the quiet cemetery where her husband is buried. The church ladies will make a lunch for the family. Then, one by one, the parking lot will empty out.
I know exactly how that place and that day will feel because I buried so many friends at that little church in Texas. I know how my heart would ache and how the dirt would feel in my hand as I placed it on the coffin and said, “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” Each time I would think about how it all felt like sadness and endings, even though the words coming out of my mouth, the words from Scripture, were all about joy and resurrection.
This is the contrast we live in as people who believe in Jesus Christ, people who know there are no final goodbyes for those who trust in a resurrected Lord. It’s always so hard to let go, to realize a chapter has truly ended, to know there will never again be those talks, those crossword puzzles, but even so – we hold fast to God’s promises. There’s a glory, a healing, a wholeness, a hope that we can only catch glimpses of here – but someday it will all be revealed when we are all reunited in the presence of the One who made us. Jesus has made this possible and this is the promise of Easter.