Last week was Halloween, All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day. The Christian tradition has often celebrated these three days together, creating a festival of sorts. In my current context, Presbyterians in central NJ, we typically honor the folks who have gone before us on the Sunday after by pausing to name them during worship. There is a connection between the living and the dead that is worth remembering, celebrating, honoring.
This was the first year Pete was among those saints to be honored. I honestly hadn’t made that connection before Sunday and even while we were naming the saints who had been meaningful to our spiritual journey, I didn’t think of Pete. I thought of my grandmother and the first pastor I remembered from my childhood. I thought of a few of the folks whose funerals I had led. It wasn’t until we were celebrating communion later in the service that I thought of Pete.
You see, I have a friend, who is also a pastor; he has been a widower now for 15 years. He remembers looking desperately for his wife to appear during communion, perhaps now appear physically but in the way that Pete has been present for me so many times. Communion seems like it is the most likely place for us to experience togetherness with the dead.
When Christians gather at the communion table, we believe we are seated with all who have gone before us and all who have gone after us. The table extends beyond the barriers of this world. In fact the table resides in another realm. John Calvin, a leader of the Protestant Reformation (that has just celebrated its 500th year), believed that we are transported from our current space and time to God’s space and time. It is not that God meets us where we are at the table; we meet God where God is at the table.
So back to Sunday, I’m sitting in one of our fancy wooden chairs up on the chancel, presiding over the celebration of communion. The piano is playing. The servers are passing out morsels of homemade bread and tiny shot glasses of grape juice. I closed my eyes as I was breathing and praying for those in my congregation. And then I had a thought, “I wonder if Pete is here.” And then as quick as that thought came to mind another followed. “Well if you’re here, you better not have come without...”
I opened my eyes in surprise. I looked around the room. Was he here? Were they here together?
I had this interesting notion that Pete had not stopped being my wing man at all… he was just given a different job. He was part of the “church triumphant” - the church that exists above, beyond and outside of the church that exists for us.
I didn’t “sense” Pete’s presence when I had these thoughts as I have at other times. But I believed in Pete’s presence in a way I had before.
I have another story of Pete’s presence beyond this realm that I have held to mostly to myself. Months ago the friend of a deceased friend messaged me about an encounter with a psychic. “I’m not sure if you believe in this but...” someone she knew had gone to a psychic and this deceased friend of mine “visited.” During the visit he said, “I’m hanging out with my good friend Pete.” Nothing was mentioned of Pete during the session with the psychic. The psychic would not have known of the important friendship Pete had with this friend.
I sat with this for a day or two and then I remembered that during this friend’s memorial service, Pete shared about how they had met.
Thirty years ago, Pete had begun to reengage his faith with some neighbors who attended a Presbyterian Church. They invited him to attend when and if he wanted. They kept telling him the church was casual; he could even wear jeans. He took them up on the offer on Easter Sunday, not knowing that this Sunday is the one Sunday of the year where everyone dresses up. Pete would tell the story by saying, “I had one eye on the sanctuary and one eye on the door when someone walked up to me, put one hand on my shoulder and reached to shake my hand with the other.”
When Pete told the story that day at his memorial, he added, “I hope he was greeted in heaven the way he greeted me that day in church.”
For our deceased friend to say, “I’m hanging with my good friend Pete,” speaks to me of this space above, beyond and outside the church that exists for me, for us.
Was Pete in church on Sunday? Did he bring our friend? Were they all there, all the folks who had gone before us? What about all those who will go after us? I don’t know; we can't know yet. That’s what faith is – trusting when we are not sure.
Books I'm currently reading:
The Post-Quarantine Church: Six Urgent Challenges and Opportunities That Will Determine the Future of Your Congregation