Touching Life and Death

I subscribe to just one magazine – “The Christian Century.” I have so little time to sit and read. There are books that beckon, emails to respond to, Facebook posts to check on. It took me a long time to even subscribe to “The Christian Century.” But once I did, I found that I read it cover to cover – each issue – every two weeks. The articles and features challenge, enlighten, amuse, stir, and keep me enlivened and inspired in my life as a minister and woman of faith.

In recent issues, there has been a series entitled, “Ministry in the 21st Century” – interviews with pastors in their early years in ministry. As the shape and scope and vision of Churches is undergoing close examination and great flux and change, it has been interesting to me to read what new pastors are thinking and believing and experiencing.

The June 26 issue of “The Christian Century (TCC)” included an interview with Lisa Yebuah, a United Methodist minister in Raleigh, NC. As I began reading Lisa’s responses to the questions posed by TCC, I – at first – found myself feeling a heightened awareness of her use of ‘religious language’ – something that feels challenging to me as I deepen my own awareness of what seems to put people off to ‘organized religion.’

48584441But then I got to Lisa’s response to the last question: Describe an experience that made you think, “This is what church is all about.” Here is her reply:

Watching our church family prepare for the funeral of a sweet eight-year-old girl. This will forever have an impact: now I know what the church is capable of in moments of despair. The parents had made arrangements for a green burial. They decided to entrust the preparation of the body and the burial itself to members of our church community. The church family received this charge as a gift and a privilege.

The girl passed away at home. After the proper authorities came and left, a medical doctor from our church rushed over to examine the child. There was nothing clinical or sterile about her approach. She handled the body with the gentleness of a mother examining her newborn child for the first time.

The child’s body wasn’t prepared by a funeral home. Instead, women from the church gathered at the house and prayed over her and bathed her. They dressed her in a favorite dress and her beloved red cowboy boots. And the casket wasn’t chosen out of a catalog. A carpenter from our church built her a simple pine box. This was later decorated by the children of the church and the girl’s classmates. Their pictures and well wishes were the most beautiful adornment I had ever seen.

On the day we celebrated the child’s service of death and resurrection, I stood in amazement, looking at the gathered community and at their hands – holy hands – used for touching life and death and life more abundantly.

Full sentences don’t come to me right now. Only snips of emotions and thoughts and ideas and hopes and prayers . . .

Love . . . intimacy . . . witness . . . real . . . touch . . . love . . . power . . . openness . . . honest . . . close . . . holy . . . messy . . . love . . . confidence . . . life . . . life . . . life . . . yes

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