Recently, life has been filled with far too many good-byes to cherished friends. Giants who formed and shaped me spiritually, saints who companioned me and witnessed how to live a life passionately in love with the Divine and all creation. Accompanying beloved ones as they journey into Mystery is surely a graced experience, but oh, at what cost to the heart!
Leave-takings are cumulative. Like any loss, they build on every previous moment of letting go and bidding farewell that has filled a lifetime. Perhaps it’s the price we pay for loving wholeheartedly and deeply. Perhaps it’s a price that’s in some way offset by remembrance: remembering with profound gratitude how we ourselves have been loved and nurtured, embraced and cherished by those we miss. Could it be that one of the blessings of those seeming endings is in the enduring remembrance of all the joyful, intimate moments that preceded them?
Those of us who have had to eulogize a loved one know, in a particular way, the challenge of re-membering. When we re-member, we revisit and extract meaning from the lives of those who have died. We ask: what might we highlight, underscore, lift up for our listeners to reveal the essence of those who have graced our life? How do we pay tribute, how do we distill a lifetime of stories and memories into a collage of tender, humorous, or moving images? How do we honor and re-member a life?
Some years ago, I offered a reflection on Jesus’ leave-taking. On that Holy Thursday, I invited those present to enter into the experience of the Passover meal from the perspective of Jesus. How did Jesus wish to burn that evening into memory, to be forever in communion with his beloved friends? I reflected:
“This night is a testament to what matters. Filled with love and profound compassion, it is a tender, final moment…It is Jesus’ legacy of witness and unending presence…
What words can he possibly utter that will endure through time and space? On this night, every smallest word and gesture is laden with significance. And so, he does what any person who loves would do: the towel is tied, the basin is filled, the feet are washed with care, bread is broken, and love is passed all around the table. May we remember, and remember, and remember the gestures of a tender God among us.”
Like Jesus, the holy ones among us live with a keen awareness that every smallest word and gesture is laden with significance. As we celebrate the individual anniversaries that mark the passing of our beloved who now deepen into risen life, and as we come together for collective remembrances–Memorial Day, All Souls day, the feast of All Saints–may we re-member the life of Jesus and the great cloud of witnesses. May we become more aware of their light all around us. May we embody in our own lives their choices for compassion and justice that have left such a profound impact on our beautiful, yet wounded world.
Reflect on those who have shown you the face of God.
Imagine their love and care surrounding you.
Offer thanks for their continuing presence in your life.
Ask them to accompany you in re-membering their witness.
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