There I was just sitting there, like I do, listening for the umpteenth time to one of my lead pastor’s Sunday morning messages. And then, it hit me. It just hit me. Like a ton of bricks this inescapable, palpable wave of deep loss and sadness flowed up over me and visibly through me. As he finished the sermon and the tears were streaming down my cheeks, panic set in as I thought to myself:
“OHHHHHHH CRAP! What comes next? WHO’S up next? OH NO … I think it’s me. Yeah, it’s me. I’m supposed to invite the offering and … Aiyiyi … now I have to get up in front of all these people and bare my blubbery face.” (which I then did, mess that I was).
Now, granted, there is no doubt that part of my sadness is just sheer exhaustion. Every female in my family has this attrative trait wherein exhaustion = weeping at the drop of a hat. Plus, my entire household and I have been on the family plan with a particularly long-lasting virus. One of the four of us has been in some varying stage of this illness for over 2 weeks now. I had felt just recovered enough to be present on this particular Sunday to co-lead worship. In retrospect, maybe I should have rethought that? So, all said, I could write my blubbery weeping off to exhaustion or being sick. Or both.
But, in my heart, I know that’s not what it is. No.
In my pastor’s heart, I know that these tears were springing up from a deep well of love for God’s people, and in particular, for God’s people gathered as the church body that I serve.
Yesterday morning was All Saints’ Sunday, and in the United Methodist Church tradition (and many other churches), on this annual day in the church calendar, we remember collectively the saints who have gone before us. For many of us, it is an important ritual where liturgy is shared, communion is offered, candles are lit, and bells are rung. We read the names of church members and church loved ones who have died in the past year. We verbalize and ritualize our communal loss. We lift up our hearts in deep, collective sadness. We mourn together. It is a powerful, ancient ritual commemorating loss as the community of faith; a tradition that most of the major world religions practice.
And my pastor heart was so heavy for our loss. As names were read, I saw the faces of these people of God before me. As names were read, I recalled hospital visits, phone conversations, committee prayers, and short chuckles and long laughs here and there over the past four+ years. Ideas, wisdom shared, and group experiences with these saints wafted through me. You see? I remembered being present in their lives. I remembered these saints allowing me (little ole’ me) into their lives. And while I felt immense loss, I also had a surprising wave of deep gratitude and humility pour through me. I found myself so deeply grateful for these saints gone before us, their hard work, their witness and dedication to Christ with the lives they led. And then, I found myself looking out at all the saints still present and at work with me, and another wave of gratitude poured through me.
You see, my pastor’s heart is with God’s people. My pastor’s heart holds so very, very close these people that I serve. I am called to lead them closer to Jesus; I am called to equip these saints. And God made me the kind of pastor that does this work best by being in relationship with these people. So, I hear their stories, their celebrations, their sadness. I see God at work in them and through them. I cry with them and I laugh with them. I try to accompany them on the journey while I am able. And then, I miss them so very much when they are gone.
But the beautiful surprise of yesterday was not that the sadness welled up and out of me. The surprise was the well of gratitude that poured over me. I am so grateful and humbled by the church allowing me in; by these people who barely know me, and yet, open their hearts to me, share their stories with me, entrust their confidences, joys, anxieties, doubts and even their spiritual health to me.
What an immense blessing, honor, privilege to serve in such a vocation.
And my gratitude simply overflows.
May God grant me this sense of deep humility every day until our next All Saints’ Sunday …
Peace, peace and peace once again,