SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER – A – April 23, 2017

 

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles: 2:42-47
A reading from the first Letter of Peter 1:3-9
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to John 20:19-31

 

He sat in the silent church, silent except for the sound of the water trickling down from the raised bowl into the baptismal font below. The stained glass windows in the eastern clerestory shimmered as the setting sun’s blue and red rays danced on the west wall and flickered like candle flames in too strong a breeze. The last of the worshipers had left moments before. The man 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. I wanted to lock the doors and get on with my evening. I flicked the switches that extinguished the majority of the interior lights thinking that this surely would be a signal the man would recognize as an indication that he should be on his way. I walked to the narthex and noisily closed the doors and turned the key in their locks to secure them. Turning to start my way back up the aisle, I gazed over the font. My jaw clenched as I noted that the man continued to sit stolidly in place, giving no evidence he intended to respond to the audible signals I so clearly had given.

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

“Is there anything I can do for you?” I asked.

Was there a hint of a smile on his lips as he turned his attention back to the Candle? “I was here a week ago for the Vigil and heard you proclaim Christ to be the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. You lit the Candle from the Easter fire and then entered this dark church to proclaim Christ our Light! I joined the others with Thanks be to God! I think I meant it. I desperately want to believe it. It was thrilling as one by one the candles we held received light and flickered a moment before the light was passed on to a neighbor. I remember the darkness of the night yielding as one by one the candles burned brighter.

“We all sat in the candles’ light and listened to the story from the beginning. The words rushed over us. Genesis. Exodus. Isaiah. On and on in hypnotic cadence the words washed over the people. I wondered, do I believe this? I want to the way I did a year ago when I entered the baptismal waters. I want to, 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 right hand flicked across his cheek, whisking tears away. “I can see that you are upset. It is about this lack of feeling you have, or is there something more?”

“I love the Easter Candle. When I was being prepared for my Baptism, I was told that the Candle is the great symbol of the Lord’s resurrection. When I was being baptized I kept my eyes fixed on it. What an awesome night that was. The Candle had figured in every step along the course of the service. It was the first thing I saw when I emerged from the water gasping. Three times the water poured over me.”

I thought that there must be something more that he wants to talk about. His body language spoke of someone who had just heard of the death of a loved one. My need to urge him on his way had subsided. I was content to wait and listen. Rather than stare at him, my gaze focused on the Candle, simply decorated this year with the cross and five red spikes and a wrap of marbled wax. Light of Christ. Thanks be to God.

“I’m dying,” he said. “A few months from now and I will find out for myself whether there is anything more than silence. I feel like darkness is enveloping me. I keep hearing the doctor’s words. He was sorry to tell me that the headaches I have been enduring are the result of an inoperable tumor in my brain.” He turned toward me to see how his news registered on my face. There was a pause, long but not awkward. “Thank you for not saying something trite. Thank you for not saying that you understand. It is amazing how many people say they understand my pain.”

I felt my heart pounding in my chest as I searched for something to say. I knew that silence wasn’t enough. I reached over and took his hand. “I can pray,” I said. “I can try to support you with my prayers.”

“I don’t have anyone near by, any family. They are 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. He turned toward me and tightened his hold of my hand. “If I could only see something that would convince me. I’m like Didymus, maybe. Like him, if I could touch the wounds, even feel his breath, I know I could believe then.”

“You do believe. You are here. You celebrated Eucharist tonight with this Assembly. You were transformed more completely with them into the Body of Christ. 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.” I remember feeling that I was struggling, grasping for words, praying that something I would say would touch.

“Am I loved? Does Christ love me? Did God send this thing that is killing me to punish me for my sins? Maybe if my faith was stronger, this wouldn’t have happened to me.”

“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 crowds and to the entire world it looked like defeat. Jesus proclaimed God’s faithfulness and love. He experienced darkness. He leapt into the void, believing that the Father would catch him in an embrace and raise him up.

“That’s what God will do with you. The Father loves you with the same love he has for Jesus. In fact, God might not be able to tell the two of you apart. Remember that white robe you put on after your Baptism. Remember what it symbolized? You have put on Christ.”

“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 enshrouding the casket reminded those gathered that at his Baptism he was clothed in Christ. The mourners 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.

 

 

 

1 comment so far

  1. Donna Authelet on

    Thank you! I will keep this one so I can read it again and so I can pass on this beautiful, inspiring story to others! Your descriptive words drew me into the church and I could see the lighted candle, the tears sliding down his face…and at the end celebrating his “going home”…with a candle leading the procession!
    The Lord bless you..keep writing!


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