This past Saturday God called home a dear and faith-filled lady whom I had the privilege of pastoring. She was born in 1923. She suffered from dementia. Due to the pandemic, she was separated from her family during her last days on earth. Even if this is not sounding familiar to you, it certainly does to me. It all could also be said of my mother-in-law, except that she was called home about nine months earlier.
Many have been the conversations this week about this sainted lady. More than a dozen comments and “likes” accompany her obituary on the STL website. And her passing prompted numerous additional memories being shared with and about a variety of “old friends.”
This has all gotten me to realizing, once again, how privileged I am in my pastoral calling. I have met so many people over the years – and shared in so many different events with them. The memories and benefits overwhelm me. Births … baptisms … confirmations … weddings … anniversaries … funerals … family gatherings … in homes and hospitals … reception halls and gymnasiums … the list goes on and on.
All this reminiscing led me back to these wonderful words given to us through the pen of Saint Paul: “Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace we have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace we have been saved, through faith – and this is not from ourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2.4-10)
We can sit around and stew about all that this pandemic has taken away from us. We can spend our time and energy complaining about the government, the economy, our neighbors/family, or a whole host of other things. We can even stymie ourselves reminiscing about the “good old days.” However, I think it is much healthier and wiser to reminisce about the faithfulness of our God, and then look at today and tomorrow through his lens of grace-given peace and hope.
There is something special about the baptized people of God in Christ Jesus. We ALL have been “made alive in Christ Jesus”. We ALL are “his handiwork”. And we ALL have the privilege of being “created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us (ALL) to do.” In other words, we ALWAYS are living in the privileged position of being able to create new memories about which we can joyfully reminisce in the future.
It often is easier for us to recognize God’s gracious actions as we are reminiscing – looking back – than as we are experiencing them in the present. Perhaps that is why Psalm 23 says that God’s “goodness and mercy FOLLOW us!” (One has to look back to see what is following!) But please note that it goes on to say “ALL the days of our lives” – which also includes both the present and the future!
So, please, feel free to do some reminiscing with me this week, but please do not let it stymie you. Rather, use your memories of God’s faithfulness as a springboard taking you into new and joyous adventures knowing three very important things: 1) “His goodness and mercy will follow you ALL the days of your life”, 2) That same goodness and mercy are yours today and for ALL your tomorrows, and 3) “You shall dwell in the house of the Lord FOREVER.”
And then last night, shortly after finishing this, I received word that someone I have pastored even longer than Lois was also called home, and it started within me another new round of joyful reminiscing.