Not this year …

I had the privilege once of being present at a celebration of 65 years of ordained ministry.  I’ve been present for a few 50 year ordination anniversaries.   Those milestones will not happen for me.  God waited until I was well into my forties to call, or I just wasn’t listening until then.  I’ve never been entirely sure which.  My anniversaries will be more modest.  That said, this year would have marked 18 consecutive years of preaching on Good Friday.  This unbroken streak began before I graduated seminary and before ordination when I, together with other Geist Christian Church staff,  was asked to design a Seven Last Words of Christ worship service.  If you’re not familiar with such a service, it is generally 3 hours long, from 12 to 3 pm, in 25 minute segments, each themed around one of the 7 passages in the gospels that are said to be Jesus’ words from the cross.  I was pretty green at preaching in those first few years, and sometimes the intensity of the day caused me to be  speaking through my tears.

When I moved to Cleveland 7 years ago and every year since, I have been asked to participate in a community Good Friday Service at St. Paul’s Episcopal in Cleveland Heights — also a Seven Last Words service.  This year I was assigned the final word from John’s gospel.   It is finished. 

But not this year.  I just can’t.  It feels strange this morning not to be doing the final edits making sure that I stay within the 10 minutes I’m given.  There is nothing to edit because I could not write.    I had nothing.  Not a word.

The grief is too fresh.  It was less than two weeks ago when my eldest son was found dead in his apartment in his bed.  Complications from diabetes was the coroner’s official word.  Diabetes was a recent — and ultimately deadly — diagnosis for my 37 year old son who already did not take good care of himself.   His death was unexpected.  That he was alone when it happened was not.  He did not take good care of relationships either.

He had a family who loved him anyway.

Last year I began my Good Friday sermon with these words:  We’re here today to grieve the death of an adult child.  Adult child is Mary-Cross-Jesus-298x300a strange pair of words.  No longer a small child who needs our care and protection.  Rather an adult who we expect to be independent, to live away from his parents, maybe even to have a family of his or her own.   But that adult  remains an adult child, no matter how old, to that child’s parents.  The impact of the death of an adult child is profound regardless of how close or strained the relationship, or how far apart they lived, whether the death was anticipated or sudden.  No parent wants this to happen. It  happens anyway.

They were heartfelt words.  I’ve been called into such situations as a pastor, praying that I could somehow bring comfort to the grieving parents.  This year it is my own adult son whose death I grieve.  Just as I described last year.  This year it’s personal.  My heart aches.

Suddenly last Saturday, I became part of a group to which no one wants an invitation.  I am now a parent who has lost a child.  Parents are not intended to outlive their children, and no parent wants that to happen.  It happens anyway.

Heartfelt messages continue to pour in to us — his family.  A few words recur in them.  I cannot imagine.  I don’t know what I would do.  I have no words.  Your hearts must be breaking.  Unimaginable.  Unthinkable.  Unspeakable.  Unbearable.  Heart breaking.

The words are right on.  On all counts.  But only to a point.  Because this is not unimaginable or unthinkable for us. Not anymore.  It is real.  I pray these words will never become real for anyone else.  But for this being unbearable, we are bearing it.  The heartache is intense, and yes, there will always be a place in our hearts that will be his.  His alone.  Nothing or no one else will fill that place.

But my heart is not broken.  But for that one empty place, my heart is overflowing with love.  It could not have been easy to walk into that room in the funeral home, much less to know what to say to any of us.  And still hundreds came.   I can speak  but the waves of grief  come without warning, and so another is speaking in my place today.  I have been given the greatest gift any person can receive — the gift of presence.  People present with me.  Present for me.  Present in messages.  Present in prayer.  God sent all these persons into my life, and God has given them the strength to be present.  I am blessed.

And so, in the midst of the grief, my faith grows.  Deepens.  Comes alive.

Why do I believe?  What keeps faith alive?  Loss and grief, struggle and disappointment, like rain on rock they can wear faith down.  I believe not because I am wise or strong.  I am neither.  I believe because I have seen the God who walks beside me.  There is no journey God has not shared.

Words penned by Steven Charleston, and hand-written on a note card I received today in the mail.  Charleston is right — there is no journey God has not shared with me.  On this day we remember when God lost his adult son.  God knows my pain and my sadness because God has suffered the same.  God is here with me with a love that never departs, a love that believes in me. 

I cannot be a preacher or a pastor this Good Friday.  Not this year.  I can only be a mother who has lost her child.  And so, God has wrapped mighty and loving arms around me and will not let me go.

Thanks be to God.

10246679_10203733107232200_5037385974790360087_nI entrust my son to your care, God.  You knit him together in my womb, and he was wonderfully made.  I was his mother for just 37 years.  I wish the time had been longer. 

He is loved forever by his family.  He is your beloved child.

….. this mother who has lost her adult son.

 

 

About Pastor Kris

Hello.  I'm Rev. Kristine Eggert, recently retired after serving as Senior Pastor of Disciples Christian Church in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. I'm the Co-Founder and Executive Director of God Before Guns, a multi faith coalition of individuals and faith communities working to end gun violence.  In retirement, I believe God is calling me to work as a progressive Christian activist in social justice causes.
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7 Responses to Not this year …

  1. Christie green says:

    My first comment Kris – a 3 hour church service? Are you guys Pentecostal or something? :). My second comment is a request – you writing is so touching and meaningful – some day I would hope that you would submit a copy to Guideposts. I believe it would comfort others. I am praying for you and your family. Our family loves you and we miss you.

    • Pastor Kris says:

      Christie ….. yes, 3 hours! But it’s done in 30 minute segments, and people are free to come and go, to stay for part or all, to come late, leave early. But maybe that’s how Pentecostals do it too! Thanks for your kind words. Good to connect with you again after all these years. Kris

  2. Cvond1120 says:

    Not one dat goes by that I do not think of you. You speak so eloquently. We miss you but understand your need, so we carry on. In your name, in Jesus’s, and all who suffer loss.

  3. Alynn j Mahle says:

    Kris…prayers for your continued healing. Thanks for sharing your grief with us. Much love.

  4. Maxine anthony says:

    I have not lost a child. God has blessed me with 6 but they are all grown now and have their own lives. 15 years ago my much loved husband unexpectedly when we b with the lord and I was left broken hearted. A few months before he died he gave me a small little resume dog and it meant the world to be. I was alone and felt forgotten but that dog never left my side for 15 years . Two days ago she suddenly got sick and I had to let her go.it had to b one of the hardest thing I have ever. Done. I miss her and God is with me but a 72 years old and hard to but a smile on my face. But I know the lord is with me or I would not be able to write this. But a hole is in my heart for that little dig we resuced her but in the end she helped me thru such. Hard time. Thank you lord for the time I had with her.

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