It was my second visit. I was a bit surprised to receive another invitation to visit with him. Exactly three weeks from our first conversation, I found myself sitting at his bedside. However, this time, it was his Beloved and not his daughter holding his hand. His voice was weaker, yet his eyes still sparked with life and the jovial, teasing spirit that had accompanied his life.
The purpose of our first visit was so that he could talk with “a preacher” as he grew accustomed to his hospice bed and the rhythms of life in this secluded community. The only clue I had about the upcoming bedside conversation was from his daughter saying, “his time is getting short.”
As the three of visited, love surrounded us. The love between a couple who cared for each other — body and soul. The love of those gathered in Jesus’ name, the most basic kind of Christian community. In the Message, Eugene Peterson interprets the Apostle Paul’s words: “Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.” (1 Cor.13: 3-7, MSG) The three of us were aware of “love that doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.” All had come to terms with the abiding love found only in holy moments when someone’s time is getting short.
As we talked, I came to understand why I had been requested to come to his bedside once more. I was given an invitation. In that moment, I saw an opportunity to “trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly.” (1 Cor. 13:13, MSG) as I asked the dying man and his beloved to help me bless the urn that would hold his remains.
One the window ledge in a gallon plastic bag was a vintage, yellow tobacco papers tin. A local funeral director suggested to the family as they were making memorial arrangements to use a vessel that meant something to the dying one and the living ones. The one who time was getting short had decided that his grandfather’s tobacco tin was just the thing. Another family member cleaned it up and found a way to attach a name plate.
Our hands formed a nest as we held the tobacco can urn. I asked God to bless the memories of family held in this old tin. In the quiet of their remembering, I petitioned God to move with grace on behalf of all. My final words were a commendation of this yellow burial vessel that it would not only hold family memories of yesterday but be a place where hope and love were bound together in life and death.
Sunday, Feb. 14 is a day that the people of this nation set aside to celebrate love. It is a mixed day for many. Some will rejoice in the love. Others will know the heartache of love lost and broken. This upcoming Sunday in 2021 is Transfiguration Sunday for those Christians who follow the Revised Common Lectionary. It, too, is a day of love. A day when Jesus’ face shone brightly on a mountain top and he turned his face towards the certainty of death on cross — divine extravagant love made known in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
My prayer for us as community is that we find ways to honor our memories of loved ones. In the moments of remembering, may we come together with enough hope to shine the way ahead as we build our common lives on the generous grace of God.
Anne Hokenstad is pastor at American Lutheran Church in Worthington.