Upon my shoulders I lay the stole
Rough-woven cotton dyed bright blue
The symbols of the faith shine boldly:
A chalice, a chi rho, a city gate, a cross.
This is a borrowed stole
I wear it as we celebrate the life
Of the kind soul who wore it
The soul now passed on to the One
He served so well.
I park the car and walk back down the hill
To where the door swings open
Before I even grasp the handle.
No stole upon my shoulders:
Instead the charcoal grey of my lapels
Bears only one small spark of color,
Red and gold proclaiming
That God has not stopped speaking
And even the finality of death
Is only a pause in the grand sentence
In which God speaks our lives.
Upon the satin pillows I regard the face
Of a man I’ve known for many years
Suddenly diagnosed, suddenly ill,
Suddenly critical, suddenly gone.
How strange the stillness
When what I remember best
Was the sudden smile
And the twinkling eyes
When he’d see me unexpectedly
And we’d catch up on the family news.
I pray God’s comfort for those who grieve his loss,
And I pray new joys for him.
“He’s due new joys,” I say,
And his sister agrees.
Once again the charcoal suit.
Once again a door I need not touch
Swings open and I join another line.
Amidst the strangers suddenly
The familiar face whom I’d expected.
It is his sister whose life we mourn,
A woman whom I never knew as an adult –
I recall an adolescent girl
Sometimes amused by her big brother,
Sometimes annoyed, sometimes determined
She will get his goat (and the goats of all his friends);
Sometimes desiring her own space,
Sometimes wondering when she’ll be that old.
I greet her parents, who remember me
(and things about me I do not recall)
I greet her children, and her son’s companion,
I look upon the face that rests upon the satin,
A face that I had never seen in life
As an adult.
Thirty-one years ago, in this very room,
I looked upon the face of another woman,
A face which I had never seen as teen or child,
The face which had looked down on mine
In cradle, crib, and stroller.
Like this young man, like this young woman,
I waited as the line
Of mourners filed through
To take my hand, assure me of their sympathy,
Some family, some friends,
Some much like I would be, decades to come,
A stranger to the son whose mother lies
Where we so wish that she were not.
Saturday, Wednesday, Thursday
In just six days, three times I must #face death
In just thirty-one years, I have long since lost count
Of funerals and wakes, receptions and remembrances.
In just eight days, when Good Friday comes
I will recall another death
Endured by One I worship as the source of life,
Transformed by Jesus into life eternal,
A charcoal gray to demonstrate respect
An azure stole to celebrate a minister
A scarlet comma edged in gold
To faithfully declare
That Death’s is not the final word
And at the end of human life,
Our God has placed a comma,
For there is more to come