Letting Go – Beginning Again

At Holy Comforter we have experienced two deaths in our parish family over the last several days. Joe Pilch, a much loved and longtime member of the parish reached the final days of his battle with cancer and died peacefully with his family surrounding him on Tuesday morning.

Later that afternoon, I was called to Fairfax Hospital where Bill Parrish, who with his wife Marianna, transferred to Holy Comforter just over a year ago, died from complications due to cardiac arrest. The loss of these two wonderful, gifted, and unique men, and the sorrow of those who loved them, left me with a fresh awareness of the impermanence of human life.

As Christians, we know that we have come from God and that we will also return to God. We must not only face our inevitable deaths, but willingly allow for the deaths of those we know and love and live with. If you think about it, our lives are constantly marked by the transitions and experiences of letting go of people we love.  We leave the safe body of our own mother’s body when we are ready to breathe on our own.  We leave home to attend college or establish our own vocation.  We leave our parents when we are ready to marry.  We eventually retire and some of us leave our beloved parish communities to do so.  Life seems to be made up of many experiences of letting go and beginning again.

We have seen many people depart from our lives and we will continue to experience these departures as we grow older. We loved them because they could not be replaced. We loved them precisely because they were human. It is why we can love God revealed in the humanity of Jesus.  Easter proclaims his mortality was not fatal but the way to a whole new quality of existence. Death may end a physical life but it cannot end a relationship.

Because of Easter, we now see that death is not the end of life, but a letting go into a fuller dimension of life. Joe Pilch and Bill Parrish “tasted” that life in all the wonders of this world, in their accomplishments, in their love of family and friends, and even in their tested faith and disappointments.  Now they will know life in full measure even as we await the day when Christ brings us to the joy of his eternal kingdom.

Be of good courage and cherish the gift of another day to live, to learn, to love, and to serve.

A Living Legacy

TributeEarlier this week, a requiem Eucharist was held for my father, The Rev. Canon David C. Lord, Rector Emeritus at Trinity Episcopal Church in Vero Beach, Florida.  As a priest, I have prayed the rites of Christian Burial at countless funerals and have walked along side those who were filled with the fragile emotions of sadness, regret, gratitude, pride, and yes, deep joy.  Now it was my turn to experience the liturgy from the inside of one who mourns. The prayers and ritual spoke evocatively of hopeful reassurance for the future. Death may end a physical life, but it does not end a relationship.

My brother Rob and I had the privilege of sharing brief reflections about our father after the Gospel reading from John 14:1-6.  Rob spoke movingly of our father’s fierce courage and relentless compassion and his wonderful gift of proclaiming the life and hope of Christ for others.  I shared a conversation I had with my father when I was an undergraduate struggling to understand my place in the world and also spoke about a humorous conversation we shared with him just a few days before his death.  The reflections were followed by the sermon delivered by long time friend, Bishop John Howe, currently Diocesan Bishop of Central Florida.  It was a gospel-centered sermon inviting us to trust in the unique life of Jesus Christ and to rest in the conviction that “where I am, you will be also.”  My father, formed in the evangelical catholic tradition, would have loved it.

Let me finally add my heartfelt thanks to those of you who have written or called over the last few days.  To be held in the thoughts and prayers of so many has been a source of healing and strength for our family.

You can listen to our reflections and Bishop Howe’s sermon below.

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Learning from Illness

dad2A wonderful recent photo of my Dad and little Andrew Palmer by my niece, Jenni Palmer.

An interesting feature in the Gospels is the number of people with physical and mental illnesses (‘unclean spirits’) that Jesus encountered during his ministry.  One can imagine that these encounters made a constant impact on Jesus, eliciting his compassion and attention.

In a large parish like Holy Comforter in Vienna, there are bound to be a good number of folks, young and old, living with a variety of illnesses. Lately it seems that our numbers have been unusually high. In my own family, my father is currently fighting a battle with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia and complications from a weakened immune system.   On a recent visit with him at his home in Florida, I drove him to his oncologist’s office for a scheduled chemotherapy treatment.  I was struck by the number of patients who had an adult child accompanying them.  As my eyes met the eyes of some of my fellow “boomers,” there was a clear recognition, a knowing without words, that our parents were in a very tough place.

As my father and I sat side be side waiting for his treatment, he suddenly turned to me and said, “You know, when I was in the hospital a couple of weeks ago, there was nothing for me to do.  I couldn’t go anywhere and decided to do some sacred meditation on a text from John’s Gospel.”  “Really?”  I replied.  “Which one?” “I have come that you might have life, and have it abundantly,” (John 10:10b) he replied.  He went on to explain that this life, this “eternal kind” of life, is the unique gift of God to us in this present world, not simply reserved for the world to come.  “It’s a whole new quality of life not determined by time, physical age, or death and it’s centered in a conscious relationship with God here and now. Jesus represents the breaking-through of this reality.” He said this with such conviction that it took my breath away.

What I am learning anew from observing my father and from my fellow parishioners, is that confronting the unknowns of illness is difficult.  We have an extraordinary and elaborate immune system and we are learning more about its mysteries all the time. But the immune system is not infallible, and we develop cancers and other diseases when the immune response is insufficient to prevent the disease. We go through the stages that are associated with the onset and development of illness–shock, denial, anger, discouragement, acceptance, and that process calls us to reconcile our new situation with our faith.  Even as we make use of every means available for healing and cure, we come to a new perception of our life in this world.  No matter the illnesses we face, the fact remains we are still men and women and children of God (and we should look upon those who are ill precisely in this way).

Jesus said, “I was sick and you took care of me” (Matthew 25:36).  The paradox involved in this attentive care is that when we are present with those who are ill, holding them in our hearts before God, they become the true bearers of wisdom and grace, not vice versa.

Thanks Dad, for your courage, honesty, and love.