It’s fall in Flagstaff. Or, more precisely, since I turned on the heat this morning, and snow (!) is forecast for tomorrow, it’s the beginning of winter.
And while that means nice stuff like pumpkin lattes, turning aspens, and my endless scarf collection, it also means, as I have learned from time in parish ministry, that people tend to die.
My mother has been a hospice nurse all my life, and so I grew up around death, and am not unfamiliar with its rhythms–people die around holidays, around days of importance to them, and around the changing of the seasons. When I was first starting out in ministry, one of the weird ideas I had was that somehow, I would get more used to this rhythm of losing people. (Then CPE happened, and that’s another story.)
Turns out, no one ever gets used to it. Each loss is unique, and that’s just all there is. In the past month, we’ve had two sudden deaths, which is tough on a community. This time, however, it was one of those stalwart couples whom everyone knew, and who died within weeks of each other.
On Sunday, I got to celebrate all three services at Epiphany, and it’s our practice to dedicate the Eucharist to the recently deceased. Usually, I don’t know the person who has died. I haven’t been here that long, and frequently, the memorialized person is a relative of a parishioner. This week, however, it was someone that I saw almost every week, sitting out in the congregation.
But using the ancient prayer for the dead (May their soul, and the souls of all the departed, rest in peace, and rise in glory), and then going into the eucharistic prayer language about how we “join with the saints and angels and all the heavenly chorus” was an interesting experience. Because now I had named one of the heavenly chorus–like watching a sporting event on TV and realizing you know someone in the massive crowd.
We’ve held onto the communion of saints idea for centuries for this reason, I suppose. It gives words to the idea that no one is really gone from our congregation–they just move positions a bit.