Saying Goodbye: Sorrowful, Yet Always Rejoicing
As we approached the front steps to the small Episcopal church in rural Washington, we saw a line of people patiently waiting to enter. I wondered: why a line? The memorial didn’t start for 20 minutes. So, we joined the line and waited quietly.
The rain gently sprinkled down on our shoulders and the shoulders of those around us. God’s tears of joy and sorrow. Just like the tears of peace, joy, and sorrow of those who loved this woman. Tears of peace that she would no longer suffer the pain. Tears of joy that she had gone home to dance with the Lord. But, tears of sorrow for the loss of such a joyful, loving, and compassionate woman. A woman who had left God’s thumbprint on so many.
When we made it to the door of the tiny church, we saw the reason for the wait: standing room only. I thought, this was a full life. A life that touched others in her community. The life of a woman who left God’s thumbprint on others.
The priest, dressed in his white and gold trimmed vestment led the service. White. The liturgical color for celebration in the Episcopal church. The celebration of life, but also the death and resurrection that we share with Christ.
But, in the eyes of the man who led us in the celebration–through scripture readings, hymns, prayer and the Eucharist,–I saw sorrow and grief. Tears and deep sadness. The same sadness I saw in her family and friends.
He spoke of hope–the hope and promise of Christ. And, as I saw his eyes momentarily well up with tears, I wondered: in times like these, does a priest, who grieves just like me, also cling desperately to hope? Rely on hope–the hope of life everlasting, the hope of God’s mercy and grace, the hope that God will walk through the valley of the shadow of death with those who grieve.
I think he must cling to hope, and the promise of Christ. And, as I see his eyes well up again, I hear God’s voice:
“sorrowful, yet always rejoicing”
We need to grieve. We need tears of sorrow, whether we are family, friends, or the priest who must stand before us all, in his own grief, and lead us in the celebration of life and death. But, we must rejoice always in the hope and promise of Christ’s death and resurrection.
As I walk out of the church, the raindrops again gently fall on our shoulders. God’s tears of peace, joy, and sorrow. I hug my sister and ask how everyone is doing. I don’t recall her exact answer, but I think, “sorrowful, but still rejoicing. Amen.”