Wisdom from the mouth of Henri Nouwen:
We all have dreams about the perfect life: a life without pain, sadness, conflict, or war. The spiritual challenge is to experience glimpses of this perfect life right in the middle of our many struggles. By embracing the reality of our mortal life, we can get in touch with the eternal life that has been sown there. The apostle Paul expresses this powerfully when he writes: "We are subjected to every kind of hardship, but never distressed; we see no way out but we never despair; we are pursued but never cut off; knocked down, but still have some life in us; always we carry with us in our body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus, too, may be visible in our … mortal flesh" (2 Corinthians 4:8-12).
Only by facing our mortality can we come in touch with the life that transcends death. Our imperfections open for us the vision of the perfect life that God in and through Jesus has promised us.
Today we are making ready to say farewell to one of our dear parishioners Reginald Burns who died a couple of days ago. His funeral will be on Friday February 27th at 11:00 AM. Reg turned 90 on February 3rd at his residence, Heron Terrace. Reg was a great old guy who for the past 10 years has amazed me because of his resiliency and hi stick-to-itiveness. When I first arrived at St. Mark’s I was struck by the image of this little man making his way, slowly up the center aisle each week to receive communion. He had his four legged cane and his determination to aide him on his journey. His sweetheart Vera was in the choir as was Reg at one time and would always watch him ever so closely as he walked to the foot of the altar week after week. Who says that you cannot express love with a tender glance? Reg walked that journey as long as he could and when he could no longer he came in a chair. Vera cared for him until her death in 2005 and after that his family showed how very much love they could offer to a parent. They brought Reg to church, to A & W, to all kinds of places as long as they could to make certain that Reg was not committed to a home and forgotten. I must say, it was precious to see Reg loved they way they he himself loved his family.
Reg’s life was not without pain, or sadness, or conflict, or war. As a matter of fact there was a little of everything. Reg had Parkinson’s had endured great discomfort and pain. When he lost Vera, his heart was saddened heart was shattered. In every life there is conflict and having served in Her Majesty’s Navy Reg also lived through war. I think that Reg caught ‘a glimpse of the perfect life right in the middle of [the] many struggles.’ When I read the words from Paul to the Corinthians "…we are knocked down, but still have some life in us…" I think they articulate well Reg’s determination and his ability to live in the promise of eternal life in the midst of the struggle. I am going to miss Reg. He loved to tell me stories and I will miss those stories. I will always have the memory of one who triumphed over much at a very advanced age to live happiness and joy. He bore witness for us all that we indeed can ‘come in touch with the life that transcends death.’
It would be fair to say that we all get sucked into the happily-ever-after scenario that we learn in fairy tales as children. We think for some reason that life is supposed to be a lot of fun. The good news is, it often is a real gas. But it is not always like that. When Jesus journeyed through Galilee so many years ago and called those who encountered him to a new life, he did not promise that it would be without pain and suffering. What is more he was the first one in line when the bags of suffering were being delivered. Not to equate God with 1970’s country star Tammy Wynette but the words that come to mind here are, "I beg your pardon! I never promised you a rose garden. Along with the sunshine, there’s got to be a little rain sometimes." What Jesus espoused, and what Henri Nouwen writes about above, and what Reg Burns bore witness to is a promise that while we might be subject to hardship, while we may see no way out, while we may get knocked down, we carry the promise of God’s abiding and loving presence that will strengthen us to preserver, to get back up and to turn from distress and embrace hope. It is true, we are not perfect and life is not perfect. But we know that perfect love that has held us when we are down; encouraged us when we were weak; and motivates us to carry on. God is with us when we see that love in others.
As we journey day by day through Lent, we can be reminded that we are mortal, that life can be hard, that there may be darkness, BUT we do so knowing where our journey takes us – Calvary! I am entering each day of Lenten reflecting reminding myself that we are a people of the Resurrection. I encourage you to do so as well.