The words above stand in tension with my past few weeks, as I said to more than one friend “Death is my constant companion of late.” Here in this season of Easter, of resurrection I’ve had more death than I’d like. Above you see a picture of a joyous occasion, the picture is almost 40 years old. It is of my ordination in September of 1982 and the woman placing the stole upon my shoulders is my first cousin Alene. She died early on this past Saturday, the day of the funeral for our 104-year-old step aunt. Her death is huge in my life. Her connection to my youth and to belonging to this large extended family, we shared 6 aunts and 9 step aunts and uncles, is indelible. Her imprint is large, and healing will come, but come slowly.
Yet I still claim the message of Father Richard that began this reflection. I was fortunate enough to be with Alene for several days. I was with her and her four children, who are actually close to my age. Childhood companions now well past childhood. So, as we sat vigil we shared not the sadness, sure tears were shed, but the life and the stories of her impact upon us. There was life in that room, there was joy in that room. Just like that day so long ago as she placed her gift upon my shaking shoulders. We shared the joy. I believe with all my heart she listened and knew what was going on at that time. It was holy time, a holy place for we all knew of the gift of life, then quite literally, that she gave to us.
It was a life of faith to me always. Love lived out as she sewed those doves into my stole. Love lived out for 91 years. As I kept vigil some other words from Father Richard Rohr came to me in his devotion. “None of us crosses over this gap from death to new life by our own effort, our own merit, our own purity, or our own perfection. Each of us—from pope to president, from princess to peasant—is carried across by unearned grace. Worthiness is never the ticket, only deep desire. With that desire the tomb is always, finally empty, as Mary Magdalene discovered on Easter morning. Death cannot win.” It’s the message of Easter, it’s the message I cling to, knowing death is real, but never the last word. Amen!