‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
~ Revelation 21:4
The very first church I served out of seminary was in Alvin, Texas. The small community is just south of Houston. It had been mostly a farming community, and the rice mill next to the train tracks seemed to cast a shadow for blocks at the end of day. It was filled with "old timers," as they would often call themselves. I learned pretty quickly that the name plates on the pews in the church meant something. These people knew one another pretty well.
During my first year at the church, it seemed that every time my phone rang, it was either someone dying, or someone had "just died." In an aging congregation, death is just something you come to expect. I didn't expect to get a call that Jay had died.
Jay became a widower just after one year of marriage, and he never married again. I enjoyed my time with Jay. He was more like a "big kid," for all of us at the church, having grown up in the church as well. He was a large man with a large personality. I always knew on Monday morning, Jay would be walking in with his "Big Gulp," cup filled with soda, the bank bag he had picked up from the bank for the church, and the latest news from every person he had already met that day. He simply was a walking community representative and a faithful follower of the church. He was easy to like, and so the morning that I got the call from his sister, Jackie, that Jay had collapsed and they didn't know if he would live, I couldn't seem to get to the hospital fast enough.
I remember it was a damp morning, and the clouds just seemed to hang so low. I remember walking in to the emergency room to discover that all attempts to save his life had been exhausted, and I was standing next to the body of a man that had become my friend.
His father and his family were just somewhat in shock, as well as, every older person in the church. They had watched him grow up, then meet this amazing young woman who would fall in love with this man, and then would be taken so soon from him and all those who cared for them.
As I started to prepare the service for Jay, I suddenly realized I didn't know what Bible verses he liked, or what his favorite songs were. I knew he loved the "Cowboys" football team. Some would say "that was all you needed to know." I felt like I wanted to know him better.
I remember asking for his Bible, and his father brought it from Jay's room. The worn cover was filled with pages that had been turned over and over. When I opened it, I suddenly had an outpouring of notes and cards. Inside were the love letters and cards that Jay had shared with his wife while they were dating, and even after they were married. I didn't know a lot about who Jay was as a young man, and as I read the notes, I discovered a love that was so amazingly pure and filled with joy.
His wife, just shortly after they were married, was wearing a nightgown that had gotten too close to an exposed flame of a heater in the house. The fabric burst into flames, and she was burnt over her entire body. She would remain in the hospital, undergoing months of agonizing treatments, only to die on their first year wedding anniversary. It was painful to think of what this young couple had experienced. Not once in anything that I read shared of Jay's pain during this time. Only the words and the promise that he would continue to love her always.
The Jay I knew only spoke of joy, and shared his faith freely. An early translation of the word, "widow," means one to be "empty." Jay was anything but that. He continued to live his life, changed, not empty, but full of the belief that he would see his wife once again.
I know that there will never be another "Jay."
What I have discovered is that faith invites us to be filled. Not empty. That when we have encountered loss, we are being invited to be filled again. Even for the Psalmist who has encountered the "valley of death," there remains a cup that is ready to be "filled to overflowing."
Loss is something we all know about. The love that God has for us continues to pour over us. Wounds are openings in our life that when opened to God may be filled with healing.
Stay in God's grip!
G. Todd Williams (c) 2019
Rev. G. Todd Williams lives in the Houston metro area and is a Hospice Chaplain and ordained Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) pastor.