Not long ago a young woman from my congregation died, after a very short battle with cancer. She was just 24 years old, had a major in sports biology, and was just about to begin a graduate degree in physical therapy.
We prayed without ceasing, it seemed literally, at times, and we all thought that this was just the sort of case that miracles were made for. How could she die? She had just gone to Europe with a friend, earlier that summer. She was healthy. She was beautiful. She was kind and generous.
The grieving punched us all in the gut; there was no breath left in us. Her family, reeling from suddenness and shock, didn't have the strength to plan a whole funeral.
But there was a Gathering.
They asked me to say a prayer, and to say a few words
I sat up the evening before and typed and thought and prayed, and thought that all of my words sounded hollow and useless. I wrote a few words about love, and about God, and about promises in the midst of so much loss. I thought about the words from 1st John, "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God.... and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God."
The Gathering was Sunday afternoon. It had rained earlier in the afternoon. The family decorated our fellowship hall with pictures and autumn scenes. There was plenty of food.
The people came. The people came and they just kept coming. There was plenty of food but most people didn't come to eat -- at least it didn't seem that way. They just came. They came to hug each other and to cry and to laugh together.
So I said a few words, brown leaves of words tossed about in the air. I felt that it wasn't enough. I said something about the young woman who died, and her family. I said something about love, and that it is what God has put us here to do. And I said something about God, and God's promises of life. And think I said something about the importance of showing up.
Later I wished I had said something about the fragility of life, how it catches us all off guard, how we think we can solve everything, and that we will live forever. Especially in times like these, when it seems that medicine can solve more and more. And when we discover again that life is fragile and short, and that we can't do everything, what do we have?
We have these promises from God, promises that what we see is not all there is, promises that life will come from death, promises of resurrection.
And we have one another.
It doesn't seem like enough sometimes. And it doesn't seem that important, most of the time, as we live in our individual lives, cluttered with obligations. But now and again, the unthinkable happens, and our hearts break, and we realize that all we really have in this world is one another, to bear us up, to shelter us, when the storms break over us. That's why we gather, I think. It is not so much protection, but it is what we have.
And the promises of the God who who weeps, who breaks, who mends our hearts.