Taking it Seriously

 A great thing about being a priest is you get to hear ordinary stories that are also awesome. Here’s one.
    The parishioner was having a hard time, understandably so. First a parent had died, and then about a year later, a spouse. The priest was good, was with this parishioner with prayer and (as we say) support. But one day he was exasperated.
    He blurted out: You know, your spouse doesn’t miss you!
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    It’s true: the dead do not miss us. We entrust them to Jesus, and we pray that God is doing for them better things than we can ask or imagine. But that means—if we think about it—they have no longings for us. God satisfies all their longings! We look forward with Christian hope to seeing them again, but in the meantime, it’s not for them as it is for us.
    We may miss them; they do not miss us.
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    The years passed and then it happened that the priest suffered his own loss. And that parishioner wrote to him, with thanks for his faithfulness and encouragement. His words were hard but true, and had been very important to hear.
    And now the parishioner spoke them back to the priest. “You know, your family member that died doesn’t miss you.”
    Ricochet. Hard words of truth. Real good.
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    I was reading the March issue of First Things—I’m always living in the past, you know—where there’s a goodly excerpt of a book about the Copts who were executed a few years ago by Islamic State in Libya, where these young men had gone for work. These 21 men are recognized as saints in the Coptic church; their families do not view the (quite grisly) video with anything but awe. They were martyred: they are in paradise: in the inscrutable mystery of God it happens that the families and community they left behind now know personally some saints who are in heaven.
    That’s how they look at it: We know some saints. They died because they are Christians. They now see God, and we know them.
    It’s as if we were back in the days of the Roman persecution of Christianity. These surviving Christians have a hard word that doesn’t allow for thoughts of revenge or for the breeding of hostility. Just matter of fact: What happened to Jesus has happened to my brother (or my husband, or my son).
    Faith taken as truth is hard. It is also good, the best good of all, the good (indeed the only good) that can carry us through life.
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    Out & About. Sunday, June 30, I am to preach at the traditional services at Church of the Incarnation in Dallas: 7:30, 9, and 11:15 a.m. I will preach there again, God willing, on July 14.

 

The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."