by Fr. Mark D. Stuart
The last time I stood in this pulpit to preach was January 18th. That seems like eons ago to me… my life is totally different now. The last time I stood here I was full of excitement and anticipation over the pilgrimage to the Holy Land, thrilled that Bob and I would be able to be there together to experience that sacred land – his first trip, my fourth. We would be leaving exactly one week from that day and after we got home from church, we set out the bags in the guest room to start the sorting and preparation of the clothes and travel necessities we wanted to bring with us. The “trip of a lifetime” I called it… little could we have known. Our minds would not have been able to comprehend the tragic events that would unfold almost as soon as we set foot in that ancient land.
Less than two weeks after I last preached from this pulpit Bob would be gone… it’s still incomprehensible to me and I’m sure it will be for quite some time. Last Sunday was my first time celebrating the High Mass since then and my eyes were drawn to the back of the church to look for that tall blond head sitting in one of the rear pews (the Mary Magdalene row, as John Duran calls it.) But Bob didn’t sit there because he felt on the edge of this his parish family, he sat there, he once told me, because he got the full visual and musical effect of the High Mass he loved so much. And that is where his remains will be interred, in the walls of this church and among all of you he loved so much.
What a farewell we gave him at his Requiem a little over a week ago and I imagined him viewing that Service saying, “All this is for me?! You’re kidding!” But we weren’t. Along with me, he is touched by the tremendous outpouring of love and support to me by all of you, without which I do not think I could have managed to keep going.
Out of genuine concern and compassion people ask me, “How are you doing?” I’m not sure how to answer that, “How am I doing, compared to what?” At first I would say, “I have good days and bad days,” but that isn’t accurate; because like a kaleidoscope my emotions are changing throughout the day. I decided the most honest answer to that question is to say, “I’m doing the best I can.” So, if you ask me how I am doing that is what I will say to you. That is the best response I have. Just as Bob is changing now as pure spirit, having shed this earthly vessel we all inhabit for our brief sojourn here, I am changing too: he is such a part of me and our lives were so closely entwined, that his new journey now leads me into my own new journey, like it or not. Much of that change now for me I do not want to have to make, like learning to live alone without my best friend, companion, and life partner by my side. But nobody asked me what I wanted, so I am embarking on new lessons “doing the best I can.”
I realize that the most important part of my changing will be healing and like the healing of deep wounds in our mortal bodies, this will take time. I do not expect that I will ever get over the circumstances of Bob’s death – how could I if I ever claimed to love him as deeply as I do? But I do expect that the terror and panic I now sometimes feel will subside and I embrace the level of my grief as the measure of the level of my love. So, I will accept the grief I feel now if it means I have that much love. It is a high price to pay, but I would never want to change that, because I know love will endure no matter what dark days we must walk through.
The Temple in ancient Jerusalem had a separate path for mourners.
Walking along it mourners came face-to-face with others members of the community, who greeted them with the ancestor of the blessing our Jewish brothers and sisters use today: “May God comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.” With a clear path to follow and prescribed ways for the community and mourners to relate to one another it may have been easier for ancient mourners and their comforters than it is for us today.
But for us Christians we do have a model if we can allow ourselves to enter into to that holy mystery. Of course, our holy mystery, our sacred consciousness, is the Christ. For the remainder of my mortal life I will be awed by the profound sacred mystery that Bob died on pilgrimage in the Holy Land and my first days of encountering his death were in the most sacred places of our faith, where our Blessed Lord lived the divine drama of His life.
In our Gospel for today we find Jesus on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem; it is Passover and Jesus is a pilgrim to that holy place. No doubt he saw the mourners walking their own path of grief around the Temple precincts. His desire to experience the sacred is thwarted by the din of money changers and peddlers out to make a profit at the expense of the pilgrims.
Spontaneously he explodes in wrath at such exploitation and we see a passionate human side of the gentle and meek carpenter from Nazareth. I appreciate the Jesus we see in today in the Gospel. When I walked the Temple Mount in that same spot just days after Bob’s death, part of my mourner’s path was anger and rage.
When Jesus would return to Jerusalem for Passover three years later, He would enter into the final sacred drama of His passion beginning with the night He was betrayed. For me now I cannot help but being drawn to the image of Our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane that fateful night; He is alone, He is in emotional anguish, and He begs God to “take this cup from me.” These days despite all the love and support which means so much, ultimately I find myself alone and afraid in the garden at night having to face reality. Like Jesus this is where I have to be and like Him, I have to wrestle with angels and demons and finally come to the point of accepting, “But not my will, but Thine be done…”
The great Temple seemed impregnable and eternal, but it fell as Jesus predicted it would. But as earthly things are but fleeting, Jesus promised His disciples a new and glorified reality which would take place through Him and then be offered to all believers. My time – your time – in the garden of Gethsemane is real; it is a difficult and dark place and tests us to the very core of our being. But my faith, and I pray yours, too, remains in a merciful God and a compassionate and loving Savior. A Savior who knows terror, and loneliness, and loss, and grief…and offers to transform that into joy. Without an ounce of doubt I can say He loved (and loves) Bob so very much, and He loves you and me so very much.
As I walk my mourner’s path I am grateful for that beyond words…
Posted by: The Parish