AfterWords is a series of community-contributed reflections intended to further the conversations that begin during Parish sermons.
A 3-Minute Read
by Luke Boggs
O Death, Where is thy Sting?
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
Death has been too much with us, late and soon. Around the corner and around the globe. Violent and not so obviously violent. But always violent.
To be sure, death is always with us, lurking and stalking. But modernity—with its breakneck pace, medical wonders, relentless pursuit of eternal youth and mostly professional tending to the dying and departed—has a way of shrouding the inevitable. Keeping death in the shadows, where we are only too happy to keep it.
This week, death will again have its moment. On Good Friday, we will remember the darkest of days, when Jesus, mocked and beaten and flogged, took up his cross and carried it to Golgotha to be slain.
His life, which began in the company of sheep and shepherds and continued as a carpenter’s son and carpenter, would end as a sheep (and shepherd) led to slaughter on a cross, that ugliest and most terrible wood construction.
Jesus, who left his Father’s side in a place without tears or suffering, descended to Earth on a mission of light and life. In one of the great mysteries of our faith, he was fully God and fully man. And he experienced everything we here below experience. Highs and lows. Feasting and famine. Life and death.
On Sunday morning, Andy Culp shared a gospel message with an unlikely starting point, the 1994 prison drama The Shawshank Redemption, written and directed by Frank Darabont from a 1982 novella by Stephen King.
Andy shared a script excerpt describing a scene when the protagonist, Andy Dufresne, an inmate, used the place of privilege and trust he had earned to broadcast a duet from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro over the prison’s PA system, bringing light and life to those around him—and earning some serious time in solitary.
I hate to admit it, but I had never seen the film. And I call myself a movie buff! Not sure why I never got around to watching it. More than anything, I guess I thought it didn’t sound like a very good time.
On Sunday night, Laura and I watched Shawshank. At two-and-a-half hours, it was a pretty long movie for its time. These days, nearly 30 years later, even superhero flicks run longer. (And streaming shows can last forever, even when they’ve run out of gas.) Shawshank didn’t feel long at all. And I loved it.
This is a story about the human condition and its inexplicable contradiction: fallen but bearing God’s image. This is a story of darkness and light. Justice and injustice. Bondage and liberation. Love and hatred. Good and evil. And friendship. There is much here about the love of friends and how much friendship and belonging matters in life.
The movie poster sums it up like this: “Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free.” In other words, this is—as the title itself boldly declares—a redemption story. And, like all the best tales, a gospel story. (But not a Sunday School story!)
In the late afternoon, between Sunday morning’s gathering and movie night, I went to the cemetery to meet Mother and my two sisters, Louise and Lori.
Daddy died three years ago Sunday, on April 10, 2019. He was the kind of father we should all be so blessed to have. Kind and loving and generous and selfless. He gave me an ideal to strive for—and grace as often as I fell short. As my earthly father, he gave me glimpses of what I imagine my heavenly Father may be like.
Near the end, Daddy was in a lot of pain. An angel, in the person of a dear doctor friend from Birmingham, visited at just the right time. He told me we needed to let Daddy go, let hospice come in so he could shuffle off this mortal coil as comfortably as possible.
The end was not pretty. I don’t think it ever is. I was relieved—and devastated. We sat there around him in mourning, the rest of his family of five. Mother, Louise, Lori and me. We were stunned, not moving or saying much.
And then another angel came, in the person of a nurse from Africa. In the valley of the shadow of death, she came alongside us and lifted us up with a prayer of thanks and gratitude for my father. Of course, she didn’t really know him, but I suppose she had come to know a bit of him through us.
Three years later, on Sunday afternoon, I hastily wrote a statement of gratitude about my father to read at the cemetery. We all still miss him, Mother most of all. But I wanted to turn the page a bit, inch us down the path from grief to gratitude with an expression of thanks for Daddy and the life he lived and shared with us.
After I finished, we lingered for a short while in the bright afternoon sunshine that shown through the pines, sharing hugs and smiling through tears. And then we went around the corner to dinner. We enjoyed some good food and drink and fellowship, swapping stories and laughing.
In my graveside declaration, I said my father was “now in a place we cannot begin to imagine.” On reflection, I can say that this is not true. Because we can begin to imagine what eternal life is like when we experience the best parts of this life, feasting in the company of family and friends.
On Easter Sunday, we will feast with family in celebration of the risen Christ, who knew and transcended and conquered death on our behalf. As we do, we may well share A Liturgy for Feasting with Friends by Douglas McKelvey.
Some years back, we were introduced to this work by dear and wonderful friends who host and care for guests with a zest and passion that can’t help but give us, in the words of the old hymn, a “foretaste of glory divine.”
If you’re wondering, “Blessed Assurance” was one of Daddy’s favorites. Even when Alan Jackson is singing it, I can’t help but hear my father’s voice singing along.
Thanks be to God.
Excerpt from A Liturgy for Feasting with Friends
CELEBRANT: To gather joyfully is indeed a serious affair,
for feasting and all enjoyments gratefully taken are, at their heart, acts of war.
PEOPLE: In celebrating this feast we declare that evil and death, suffering and loss, sorrow and tears, will not have the final word.
But the joy of fellowship, and the welcome and comfort of friends new and old, and the celebration of these blessings of food and drink and conversation and laughter are the true evidences of things eternal, and are the first fruits of that great glad joy that is to come and that will be unending.
So let our feast this day be joined to those sure victories secured by Christ,
Let it be to us now a delight, and a glad foretaste of his eternal kingdom.
Bless us, O Lord, in this feast.