I can remember when I was a little girl, I had a recurring nightmare about being lost in an unfamiliar place. I can still remember feeling the panic of disorientation in my chest. My heart beat faster and faster as I struggled to figure out exactly where I was.
And then in my dream, I saw the familiar figure of my mother on a crowded street corner and I ran toward her as quickly as I could. As I was running to her, she began walking away from me, heading in the opposite direction. I called out her name and she just kept walking as I struggled to get to her, yelling out to her over and over again as she moved farther and farther away from me, eventually disappearing altogether into a crowd of people.
Some years later, I read that this kind of dream is not an uncommon one in children, or in adults for that matter. The dream, of course, represented my fear of death and of losing my mother. I was fearful of losing the most important human connection a little girl could have in order to feel safe and secure.
But here’s the thing: our fears about losing important human connections are not at all irrational are they? Our fears of being lost are neither childlike nor naïve. We will all eventually lose one another — and leave one another — through death. Our worst nightmares will play out in our lives. The experience of loss is an unavoidable consequence of being human enough to take the risk of loving and losing.
When we gather together on occasions such as today, I think we feel that same panicky catch in our throats and pounding in our hearts. We are reminded — as if we needed reminding — how fleeting our connections to one another really are. Days like today, really this whole week since David died suddenly on Sunday, have an ethereal quality. These days and weeks, particularly after an unexpected death, are liminal, in-between times — time out of time — that feel as unreal as a bad dream. Our connection to David feels as if it has been snapped like a dry November twig, leaving us as bewildered as children, even if we are all grown up.
But in our reading this morning, the apostle Paul talks about a reality that is more real than death, more reliable than any dream, and more lasting than any human connection. Paul reminds us of the one connection that is never broken, and the one love that endures forever. What lasts through all of time is the love of God as expressed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Paul reflects back to us our deepest needs and our deepest fears and baddest bad dreams in one fell swoop. Paul assures us that we will not – and cannot – be separated from God. We are never, ever lost in this world, even in our loneliest hours. No matter what nightmares haunt us, no matter where we go or what we do or have done to us, no matter what bleak stuff life throws at us, there is nothing on heaven or on earth that can separate us from God. Even in — or perhaps especially in — our brokenness and grief, God holds us and loves us forever. We can sit in our mourning and feel as bad as we need to feel, and still believe beyond all doubt that David is being held in love and grace by God. And God’s love and grace is true for us on this day.
Paul is persistent and passionate about this point when he tells us, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Can you imagine a promise more powerful than this? Can you imagine a love more amazing?
Moreover, it is not just God, but the love of God in Christ Jesus who came to us as a human being to share our pain and live in our sorrows. And through our baptism we have been claimed by Christ and grafted onto the family tree of God. Jesus is the true vine and our connection to one another through him as brothers and sister in Christ is no flimsy twig, but a strong and eternal connection that neither bends nor breaks even in death. We belong to God and to one another forever.
David was called in his baptism to be a child of God. And all of us, throughout our whole lives, are also called to be sons and daughters of the God who is connected in intimate, loving relationship within God’s very being, the mysterious unity of the triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are never independent, self-sufficient creatures. Every breath we take is dependent upon God’s grace. And despite what we may think of ourselves, none of us will ever be anything more or anything less than a beloved child in the eyes of God. No matter how much good we do or how much we mess up, we are loved, forgiven and held by grace in an unbroken pattern of mercy.
So in a sense, death is the completion of a connection to God that begins in baptism and is perfected in death. While it is true that our human connection to David is broken in a very real and terrible way for Alan and all of you who loved him, this very gathering here shows us how God continues to gather God’s people and creates connections to one another through the memories, stories, tears, laughter, and music we are sharing today and will continue to share into the future as we remember David.
I will always be so grateful to Alan for introducing me to his Dad a few years ago at our family’s annual Festivus party, always held 2 days before Christmas. (If you don’t know what Festivus is, ask Alan after the funeral). Alan asked me if he could bring his dad with him to the party and I said, of course, we’d be delighted to have David with us. There was a long pause and Alan said, “Do you mind if he brings his bagpipes with him?”
Now you all know that there are really only two kinds of people in the world. People who simply cannot stand bagpipe music and liken the sound to nails being slowly dragged across a chalkboard. And people like me, who have enough residual Scottish blood coursing through their veins that they begin openly weeping before the first note of “Scotland the Brave” is played. And so David and his pipes came to Festivus, and David not only played for our gathered friends and family, but also went out into the snow and played up and down the street for our neighbors. I don’t know what the neighbors thought about David’s bagpipes and I’m not at all sure I care. Because my family and I will always hold those moments of David’s bagpipe playing and his laughter at our table as grace.
There’s a lovely final line in the hymn we’re about to sing:
“There would I find a settled rest, while others go and come;
No more a stranger, or a guest, but like a child at home.”
It is a poignant, terrible, beautiful fact of which we are painfully reminded this morning — as long as we are alive, people we love will go and come and go. We are strangers and guests, husbands and wives, co-workers and friends, children and parents, family and lovers. And in every human relationship, there is brokenness and beauty
What finally disrupts the coming and going is death. And all we can finally know about that broken branch is the unceasing promise of God for us. We can believe that David has arrived to a settled rest wrapped in God’s grace and love. One day we will follow that same path when we will become who we always meant to be, even when we didn’t know it. No longer a wayfaring stranger. No more an awkward, out-of-place guest.
David is who he was always created to be which is God’s beloved child. Safe and sound. No more nightmares. He is home.
Thanks be to God. Amen.