When suffering and death come.

I almost broke out of my “cage” last week to visit my husband’s grave. My priest would meet me there, and we would pray on the memorial of my beloved’s repose, five years ago. But we changed our plan and had a virtual gathering with him praying in the church and more of us praying along via Zoom than would ever have been able to come to the cemetery. Before we had conceived the graveside plan and given it up, we had planned for me to bring a koliva to church to serve after a service there. I know people everywhere have been accomplishing many and various quick-change feats lately.

The Zoom meeting/service was a little odd; I’m certain it was the first prayer service ever held that way in my parish, but under the circumstances it was the best, and I was really glad we did it. More than 21 people were able to be with me that way, and some of you were among them. I could see that 21 devices were tuned in, and some of them represented couples or families.

Most of us had our microphones turned off, but even having two or three people singing or praying together on Zoom confuses the audio stream. I was thankful to all of those who were willing to listen above the superficial distortion to the beauty of the memorial, for the sake of praying with me and for my husband. It was sweet to see their names and/or faces, and after the hymn “Memory Eternal” more people turned on their mics to say it individually.

That was a blessing of the current version of normal, and a good alternative to standing in the rain six feet away from my priest. But when I do eventually feel free to visit the cemetery, that real and physical resting place (I will choose a sunny day), I can see me with my face in the grass, smelling the earth, feeling the breeze blowing over me and over all those waiting for the Resurrection of the Dead. Until then I am sharing a few pictures of events featuring more concrete, material remembrances, the sorts of gatherings which we will be less likely to take for granted in the future — I hope!

Today as I write, it is Saturday, which is the Sabbath, as we were reminded in our (streamed) morning prayers from church. The day of rest. But most of us don’t rest ourselves on this day. Rather, the church remembers those who are resting in death, waiting for the Resurrection, Resurrection Day, which we both celebrate and look forward to on Sundays, as Sunday is the Eighth Day.

When I “came home,” which meant coming downstairs, I read the passage from I Corinthians appointed for the day, and it is on the same theme, a topic on the minds of many in these days of a world pandemic, a time when death statistics are in nearly every news article one comes across. I keep thinking about Ivan in Tolstoy’s story, and how it was only in suffering that he began to get understanding. I will quote from my own blog post, written only a month ago, so soon pertinent to our moment:

“It is the disruption of Ivan Ilyich’s pleasant life, the pain of his illness, and the growing realization that he is dying, that make him pay attention, and even pray. His prayer is along the lines of, ‘What did I do to deserve this?’ but nevertheless: ‘Then he was still, ceased weeping, held his breath, and was all attention; he listened, as it were, not to a voice uttering sounds, but to the voice of his soul, to the current of thoughts that rose up within him.'”

It is always a good thing to realize that one is dying. Those of us who will survive this recent threat and go on to live many more happy decades are no less under the sentence of death than those who will die from Covid-19. The realization can lead to repentance, and that in turn, to life.  Here is the epistle reading for today:

Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

“O Death, where is your sting?
O Hades, where is your victory?”

The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. -I Corinthians 15:50-57

Let’s not only pray that we and the people we love be delivered from physical suffering and death, but also that when suffering and death come, as they will, we all will be able to hear the voice of God in our hearts. As it was for Ivan, for some it will be the beginning of true life.

For Thou art the Resurrection, the Life, and the Repose of Thy servants who have fallen asleep, O Christ our God, and unto Thee we ascribe glory, together with Thy Father, who is from everlasting, and Thine all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and ever unto ages of ages. Amen.

-From Prayer for the Departed

11 thoughts on “When suffering and death come.

  1. “Let us pray… but also that when suffering and death come, as they will, we all will be able to hear the voice of God in our hearts.” What life-giving words! Thank you.

    May your dear husband’s Memory be Eternal!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. How beautiful that you all were able to pray together for your husband’s memorial. I know it was probably strange, but I am grateful for the gift of technology to connect us to loved ones and our parishes right now. And the koliva is beautiful!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am so glad you were able to pray together. I had a Zoom prayer session on Sunday and it was awkward but I was so grateful to see faces!!

    And yes, we are all under sentence of death from Sin but I hope this time will help us to take it more seriously. My trust is in God at the moment when I am scared- it is God who answers.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m sorry you couldn’t have the ceremony for the remembrance of your husband at the cemetery as you would in normal times. I suppose the ceremony via Zoom was the next best thing but disappointing nevertheless. Let’s hope and pray things go back to normal soon.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Knowing we’re terminal from the first breath still didn’t make it any easier for me. I’ve visited Dave’s grave twice and am closer now than I ever was. Someone asked if I talked to Dave and I said, “No, but I do talk to Jesus; He’s in a better position to hear and help.” I don’t like being a widow.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Yes, I’m grateful for technology like never before. Texts, phone calls and services online keep us in touch. And sometimes watching silly stuff on YouTube at least brings voices into the house. I’m glad you could have a virtual gathering to remember your husband’s passing. Hugs from Minnesota!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Your words are profoundly beautiful, Gretchen. I can only imagine some of the feelings you experienced, knowing the plans you originally planned had to be changed but what a wise solution you came up with. So many could participate and remember and “be with” you in such a personal way.

    Wishing you sweet and loving memories of your husband.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Beautiful post. Five years! It doesn’t seem possible, Gretchen. I feel that suffering drives us to more and deeper prayer, which gives us hope slowly, which increases our faith. And without faith it is impossible to please God, so suffering is essential in our relationship with Him. But still a hard way to do it.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Dear Gretchen, I am so glad you were able to gather virtually with more people than might have been there at a meeting at the cemetery. You will be able to do that later. It is twelve years my dear husband Paul left us and I still miss him every day but not with the wild grief I had once. Your words are very beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

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