It is 1:30 on a Monday afternoon. I sit in the middle of the choir loft on the top row. I sit in the spot where J. W. sat. At 11:00 this morning under the tent at the graveyard, I placed my hand on the coffin of my friend J. W. Words were spoken, prayers were pronounced, and hugs and words of hope were exchanged. After the burial, we proceeded to the church where a group of giving folks had gathered with expressions of love. Home cooked delicacies of all sorts covered several tables. Family and friends gathered for a meal, for some love and some hope.
It is 1:30 now. The Fellowship Hall has been reconfigured and cleaned. Everything is back to normal. Everyone has gone. It’s quiet. I go into the sanctuary and sit. I sit where J.W. sat. I see what he saw. He had the best seat in the house. Sunday after Sunday, he could see everything. The baptism pool was directly behind him, the pulpit directly in front of him; he could see the clock, the sound techs, people coming and going, the back of my head and he could see the expressions on the faces of those in attendance. He could see people laughing or praying or sleeping.
J. W. liked to sing. He liked to practice. He devoted himself to his family and church. He loved God and trusted Jesus. I see now what he saw.
In these still quiet moments I cry. Less than two weeks ago Bernice died. She sat near the front of the sanctuary. A Sunday or two before illness claimed her, she pushed Chloe, her two-year-old great granddaughter into the sanctuary on the seat to Bernice’s walker. Chloe was laughing and Bernice was triumphant. She defied the walker as often and as long as she could. She did not want to use it. Chloe laughed as her great grandmother transported her to a place where God’s love is taught and shared.
A few weeks before, beautiful flowers were placed in the sanctuary in loving memory of Floyd. He died the Wednesday before at Kitty Askins. I loved hearing him pray. His prayers were elegantly simple and always on target. He closed his prayers with, “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.”
J. W. could see all this from his vantage point in the choir loft. I am privileged to serve as a pastor; I see lots and hear lots. Oftentimes the stuff I see and hear is not fun. Losing friends like Floyd, Bernice, and J. W. is not easy. My heart aches. I have to be still and listen for, and to, God.
I sit still in the choir loft. I remember, I give thanks and I pray. Ash Wednesday will soon come. On that occasion we will gather in this sanctuary and be reminded, that “we are dust and to dust we shall return.” We will begin our six week journey into Lent after which we will remember the events of the week of Jesus’ passion and then we will celebrate the resurrection of Christ, our Lord.
I hear Jesus’ words to His friends when He told them not to be troubled at His going away. He was going to prepare a place for them and He was going to return for them. I hear Jesus’ words to the thief on the cross, “You will be with me in paradise today.”
I sit in the spot where J. W. sat. I see what he saw, but I cannot see what he, Floyd, and Bernice now see. I will wait until my name is called, and then I shall see what God has in store.
Mark S. Hobbs