THE SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER – April 12, 2015

 A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 4:32-35

A reading from the first Letter of Saint John 5:1-6

A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 20:19-31

 

He sat in the church that was silent except for the sound of the water splashing from the raised bowl into the font below. The fading light of the setting sun shimmered in the stained glass windows of the eastern clerestory. Dapples of red and blue deepened and shimmered like candle flames in a gentle breeze. The last of the worshipers had left moments before. A young man sitting adjacent to the font seemed unwilling to let go of the moment, reluctant to step out of the mystery into the approaching night.

I watched him for a few moments and felt irritation rise because I wanted to laock the doors of the church and get on with my evening. I flicked the switches that put out the majority of the interior lights. I thought surely that would be a sufficient signal for him to recognize that he should be on his way. I walked to the narthex and noisily closed the doors, turning the key in the locks to secure them. Turning to start my way back up the aisle, I looked over the font. My jaws clenched in irritation that the man continued to sit where he was and gave no indication that he intended to respond to what I thought was a clear and audible signal.

The sound of each step I took on my way back down the aisle echoed through the nave. When I reached the pew where he was sitting I stopped and turned toward him. I now saw that his gaze was fixed on the Easter Candle that stood adjacent to the ambo. I saw tears on his cheeks. I sat a few feet away from him and watched. His breathing was calm and his arms rested in his lap. Then he was looking at me, his eyes wide and unblinking.

“How can I help?” I asked.

There seemed to be a hint of a smile on his lips as he returned his attention to the Candle. “I was here a week ago when you sang about Christ being the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. You probably didn’t notice me standing nearby as you lit the Candle from the fire. I followed in the procession as you entered the dark church, raised the candle and sang, “Christ our Light! My voice cracked as I joined the others with “Thanks be to God! I think I meant it and desperately wanted to believe it.

“It was thrilling to watch as one by one the candles we held received light for the Easter Candle and in turn was passed on to a neighbor’s candle. It wasn’t long before candles twinkled throughout the whole church.

“Listening to the Scripture readings that began with Genesis and the dawn of creation and continued through Exodus and Isaiah was hypnotic as the words washed over us. As I said, I wondered if I believed this. I want to, you know, but I don’t feel anything.”

His tears continued to flow and fell from his chin to his shirtfront. “Feeling and believing aren’t the same thing any more than seeing and believing are,” I said. His hand flicked across his cheek, whisking tears away. “It’s obvious that you are upset,” I said. “Is it about this lack of feeling you have, or is there something more that is happening?”

He leaned back against the pew and sighed. “I love the Easter Candle. When I was baptized a few years ago, I was told that the Candle is the great symbol of the Lord’s resurrection. That was an awesome night. My attention fixed on it all through the Vigil Service. And it was the first thing I saw when I came up from the water gasping. Three times I was plunged into the water and three times I saw the Candle.”

With the tears and the slump of his shoulders, he seemed to me to be one who had just heard difficult news. The need I had to urge him on his way subsided. Now I was content to wait and listen. Rather than stare at him, I too, focused on the Candle that was simply decorated that year with a cross and five red spikes and a wrap of marbled wax. Light of Christ. Thanks be to God.

“I’m dying,” he said. “It won’t be long until I find out for myself whether there is anything more than silence. I feel like darkness is enveloping me. There is so much that I want to do, but I keep hearing the doctor’s words, how sorry he was to tell me that the headaches I have are the result of an inoperable tumor in my brain.”

He turned toward me to see how his news registered with me. There was silence, long, but, curiously, not awkward. “Thank you for not saying something trite. Thank you for not saying that you understand. I’m amazed at how many people say they understand my pain.”

It was a relief to know that he couldn’t sense my heart pounding in my chest as I searched for something to say. Silence wasn’t enough. I put a hand on his shoulder. “I can pray,” I said. “I can try to support you with my prayer.”

“I don’t have anyone near by, any family. They’re in the Midwest. I’m not married or even engaged. But you have to die alone anyway, I guess. I hate darkness. I love light.”

His tears had stopped. “If I only I could see something that would convince me. I’m like Didymus in the Gospel tonight. If I could touch the wounds, even feel the breath, I know I could believe then.”

“You do believe. You are here. You celebrated Eucharist tonight with this Assembly and your transformation with them into the Body of Christ continued. The union in the Body is closer than family. The bond is love – Christ’s love for you. Your love for Christ and one another.” Was I struggling for words, grasping for words that would cut through his pain? Please, Lord, I thought, give me something to say that touches him.

“Am I loved? Does Christ love me? Did God send this thing that is killing me to punish me for my sins? Maybe if I believed stronger this wouldn’t have happened to me. Or maybe stronger faith would make it go away.”

“Hear me,” I said. “God does not send you this terrible cancer. But God does rush in to support you with love during your illness. You walk with this illness the way Jesus carried the Cross. To the entire world it looked like defeat and abandonment. Jesus proclaimed God’s faithfulness and love and he experienced darkness. In the end, he leapt into the void believing that God would catch him in an embrace and raise him up.

“I believe that’s what God will do with you because God loves you with the same love God has for Jesus. In fact, God might not even be able to tell the two of you apart since you put on Christ when you were baptized.”

“Do you mean that? Is that true for me? Can I believe that?”

“I’ll tell you more. Hear me again. If you want it, when the time comes, I’ll be with you. You will feel my hand holding yours. You will hear my voice. I will remind you that God loves you and that Jesus waits to take you home.”

 

Puffs of smoke seemed to cling to his casket before ascending as I incensed his body at the funeral’s conclusion. The pall reminded those gathered that at his Baptism he was clothed in Christ. The Assembly stood in testimony to the truth that he had lived in Christ, died with Christ, and now lived in Christ forever.

The Candle went before us as we made our way down the aisle and out into the summer’s sun.

2 comments so far

  1. Stephanie Jensen on

    Father Sarkies, I’m so pleased to be reading your blog each week. I’ve sent it off too many of my friends to enjoy and be enlightened. I love the fact that Didymus was mentioned in today’s gospel. Thanks so much for sharing.

  2. Michelle Cattin on

    Thank you for this!…how very powerful!!!


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