This past weekend I had the privilege of being present for a memorial service honoring a fine lady who passed away recently. She lived into her 90's and I have had the joy of knowing her these past 15. Hers wasn't a traumatic death, it wasn't unexpected, and if anyone knew what promise lay before her in the afterlife, she certainly did. Let's just say that I wasn't attending her service expecting to experience anything particularly profound... And yet I did.
For many years my wife and I shared this community of faith where she brought people together for one last occasion. As I sat there, watching pictures of her life float by, high above the service, and heard stories of her life, being close to so many who shared life and faith with her, I felt a voice. Not the big booming, James Earl Jones voice of God ... Rather the still small voice of the Spirit ... I think. I'd love to say after so long in the pastoral arts that I can recognize it, but I'm still always left wondering. What I'm sure of though is the impression that was left... And the impression was very simply and clearly, that in that moment I was being reminded what community, true community, community formed by shared faith journeys, really looks like. In that moment, even though we were surrounded by generally the older crowd of our former faith community, those who we probably had less in common with than others our own age and life stage, I missed the idea of community so much so that it left an indelible ache. It came racing home to me in a moment that I had, in fact, shared so many moments with many of these. They weren't all good moments. When you are the "young guy", the "change agent", you have a tendency to drive those less likely to want change totally crazy. And those on the older scale, and their resistance to my brilliant ideas, tended to drive me totally crazy. However, here we all were, gathered again, like little or no time had passed, even though the reality of those who no longer sat in these seats with us lingered off to the side with an unspoken fondness
It occurred to me in that moment, that this is what community really looked like. Memories and shared experiences, some wonderful and some not so much, all mixed in with time binding it together and making it last. This is what those of the "I can live my own faith in my own way without community" mindset have carelessly and arrogantly set aside. This what the witnesses to the ancient faith communities wrote of in the pages of the New Testament. It wasn't glamorous, it was quite a bit dysfunctional, it was community and it carried all those who chose to participate through the pages of lives not meant to be travelled alone. And it reminds me one more time, when I truly need to be reminded, that this is the divine plan and church is worth it.