As part of my weekend, I had the privilege to read 1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18 at my sweet friend's husband's funeral mass.
I can tell you that as I sat in the pew before people arrived, I prayed that God would use me as He saw fit; that everything I said and did was to serve as His hands and feet and not to serve my own needs. I wanted to forget my own self-consciousness as my heels echoed down the aisle, not worry about getting tongue tied as I said, "Thessalonians", not worry about what anyone thought of my reading...that my only purpose was to speak His words of truth in this reading, to vocalize from the page the hope in these words.
I gave my copy of the bulletin to someone, so I was flying blind as to when I was to speak. I thought I would look over the shoulder of the people seated in front of me..but they kept their bulletins closed. (Ach! Do you feel my panic rising? I just kept telling myself, "It's not about me." Thankfully, the priest walked us through everything.)
When I turned to see my friend standing at the entrance, holding the hand of her daughter, my heart was in my throat and my chest was aching with contained sobs while the tears flowed down my cheeks. (Waterproof mascara is not tear-proof. Just sayin'.) As I stood there, I realized that the last time I had been in this church was for a wedding...their wedding. I took some deep breaths and focused on the priest and on God. ("Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace." Oh yes, I did say that prayer to myself over and over and over again.)
When it was my turn to clomp up the aisle (apparently I wear the world's loudest shoes, at least it felt that way) and stand at the lectern, I smoothed out my page, took a steadying breath and read. I do not know exactly where in the scripture my voice began to crack, but it did. I couldn't help it. As I read, "Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds..." I looked up and out at the faces and in my heart I was screaming, "WE WILL BE CAUGHT UP TOGETHER!" That is our consolation, we will all be together again and no matter how horrible and sad and unfair it all feels, this is not the end of the story. (Thank YOU, Jesus!)
The priest's homily focused on this hope and I know his words were comforting to all, as I heard the word "hope" spoken a great deal afterward. When we speak of hope, it is so often for tangible things or things we can clearly envision. ("I hope we win the game." "I hope the baby sleeps through the night.") I don't know about you, but for me, the hope that Paul speaks of in 1 Thessalonians and the hope the priest spoke of, they are difficult to clearly envision. I have that hope, but the paradise we hear of, especially as we await Easter and the resurrection, is just not a place I can design a glossy-pictured brochure of, know what I mean? I can describe it, mostly, but it's kind of nebulous like those clouds we will all be caught up in together. I believe in it and I place my hope in it, but I cannot begin to wrap my mind around the paradise God has prepared for us. I am human enough to admit that my wildest imagination will fall short of God's abilities.
However, as we gathered together, hugging and loving and yes, even laughing, I got a taste of that togetherness. The gift of sharing in the burdens and hurts as well as the joys of life is part of our beautiful and wonderful humanity. Perhaps as we are caught up together in this life, we taste the hope of the time when we will all be caught up together in the clouds. This weekend hope was in the love and care of family and friends joined together to celebrate and grieve a man, to hug a woman and little girl and to stand together as witnesses to a future and love.
It was a glimpse into the truths of the scripture, "We will be caught up together."