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Pianos, it turns out, are heavy. Like, really heavy. Like, three days later, still feeling the back ache heavy.
After three months of working out of my living room, I’m finally taking down my makeshift office space – a desk plunked in the middle of the room, cords snaking across the floor – and putting my living room back to rights. And after three months of sitting day-in and day-out in this room, this feels like a good opportunity to re-arrange the furniture.
All well and good until I realize I’ll need to move the piano to the other side of the room to make the new design work. Over fairly thick carpet, which of course bunches up when you drag stuff across it.
I heave, and haul, and push, and kick my cats out of the way, and inch by inch move that sucker to its new home where it will now live for time immemorial.
Heavy lifting, it turns out, should be done in community.
The weather couldn’t have turned out better. The rainstorm moved through hours ago, leaving behind sunny skies and just enough breeze to keep the bugs away. People stand around the tent, keeping their distance from each other, but close enough to hear the words of eulogy, sermon, committal. A bugler plays Taps, the notes drifting up into the trees whose branches wave as if conducting.
I outstretch my hands in benediction – “May God go before you to guide you” – and feel immensely grateful to be here with these people, my people, who, finally, after three months and seven deaths, can come together to remember, hope, and grieve one of their own.
“Can you read this sermon over and tell me if its rubbish?” I’m getting desperate. With one funeral in an hour, another funeral liturgy to finish before Friday afternoon, and the church service being filmed Friday morning, I need to get this sermon up to snuff, and fast. It’s a tricky one though. One of those sermons that lives in perfect form in your head but runs away from you the minute you try putting it on paper. So I email my Worship Director. “Just tell me what I need to fix so it makes sense.”
Forty minutes later it’s back in my inbox with suggestions, edits, and encouragements that bring the thing together beautifully. Little does he know I’m now adding “Sermon editor” to his job description.
I log into Zoom and start the evening’s Congregation Gathering meeting. “This is the last one,” we’d told the congregation in that day’s MailChimp. I expect most of the usuals to be there, those who had stuck by our weekly virtual fellowship hours. But by 8:10 it’s me, our Worship Director, and one other parishioner. “Guess I’m calling it,” I say with a laugh, not terribly disappointed to be logging back out of Zoom so soon. I’m grateful for these months of Wednesdays, but online is a hard way to do community.
I wake up and there’s an unopened text on my phone – one of my parishioners has passed away in the night. The third of three deaths in four days. An hour before his death, I stood by his bed with his wife and children and celebrated communion with them, surrounding the body of this beloved saint with the body of Christ – “it’s given for you, dear friend. Just think of the feast waiting for you.”
It was the first time I’d done communion since early January. A piece of pita bread and a small glass of red wine. The Belgic Confession tells us this meal “nourishes and maintains” us. I preach that a lot. This time I felt it.
I’m sitting in my friend’s front yard drinking La Croix when a car pulls up. My friend is also a pastor, and in the car is an intern from her church. She plunks down in the grass and I introduce myself and we settle into easy and eager conversation about ministry and gender and hopes and dreams. A little trinity of shared understanding. I wonder if my friend is as perplexed as I am to be the “experienced one” in this conversation. I think about the women I look to, the women at whose feet I sat. It’s good, sitting here in this front yard, with these people who get it.
I turn onto the sandy path leading out of Duncan Woods and into the cemetery. This has become my early morning ritual these days, this walk through a forest of trees and then a forest of headstones. I see names I recognize, clustered about in their clans, as prominent in death as they were in life. It’s the dates I look at most closely though. 1879-1954. 1909-1982. 1964-2003. I think about what these lives have encompassed. Wars, depressions, riots, pandemics. Church building projects, Christmases spent in Idaho, children’s bikes accumulating in the garage, degrees mounted on the wall. Conversations with colleagues about the future, taking bread and wine and feeling full again, favors asked, help extended, grief shared, heavy lifting made lighter. It’s assuring, these small testaments to lives endured, lived, delighted in, shared.
As they, so we.