Easter, delayed.

It was the morning after Easter when I heard that my dad was dying, and that I should come home.

Of course, my Holy Week and Easter were a bit different than normal. I wasn’t leading multiple services over multiple days at my church, as I would have at home. Called months earlier into active duty service with my National Guard unit, I was at a mobilization station getting ready to deploy overseas. I ended up traveling over Holy Thursday and Good Friday, canceling a liturgy I had planned to lead at the mobilization station chapel.

Dad holding my son, Naaman, 13 months-old at the time, at my ordination in 2008.

When I arrived overseas on Good Friday afternoon I struggled to stay awake just late enough to go to bed by 8pm. I didn’t make it to chapel that night, the first Good Friday service I’ve missed in memory. With travel and time zone lag, my sleep was off for those first few days, resulting in me waking up an hour or two before the ridiculously early sunrise here.

On Easter Monday I woke up crazy early, my sleep still off, and I noticed a text message from my brother. Please call. It was around 3am. I promptly called him, still Easter evening back home, and he told me the news. Dad was dying. Hospice was called.

There we were, in the wake of the resurrection, preparing for our father’s death.

The military post is largely quiet at that hour. Most people are asleep. I wandered from my bunk to the laundry room to an amphitheater where morale events are held, talking on the phone, crying, and shaking my fist at God.

You know, I always thought that was a metaphor, to shake your fist at God. But that night, it wasn’t. After getting off the phone with my brother and then my dear wife, and unable to go to sleep, I went for a predawn run. And on that run I cried and I yelled some more. And I shook my fist at God. Literally. I shook my fist toward the sky and shouted out. And sobbed. And ran some more.

The predawn sky that received my anger and grief on that morning run,
and responded to my shaking fist with a gorgeous array of color.

I wish I could tell you that I felt joyously comforted in that moment by the promise of the resurrection. That, like the disciples walking the road to Emmaus, my heart was warmed by the presence of Jesus by my side. But that really wasn’t the case. Jesus was by my side, I have no doubt, but it felt more like Jesus of the cross than Jesus of the empty tomb.

I know my Bible, and I know the church year, and that knowledge helps. A lot. Because in that fist-shaking, tear-streaming, ugly-crying moment I wasn’t feeling the joy of the resurrection. Not at all. I was in the depths, crying out.

Now, I know how the story progresses from the cross to the empty grave, and that knowledge comforts me. I know that Good Friday’s lament leads to Easter Sunday’s joy. Death is no more – this is what the church has taught me. And it didn’t just teach me, but the church embedded this truth deep within me with by drawing me into its liturgy and hymns and prayers and public witness and caring presence and persistent hope. And early on that Easter Monday morning as I faced my father’s death, I knew this to be true – death is no more – even if I wasn’t feeling it in that moment.

Easter was delayed for me this year. And while part of me feels robbed, I’m also at peace. Because I know that Easter will come again. I know that death is no more. That is what the church has taught me, and I know it to be true. And when my feelings recover, I’ll feel that truth again. Though, probably, it’ll feel a bit different. And that’s ok. Because faith is not the same as feelings.

Do it now. Go say Thank You.

Larry House died last week. He was my first boss, hiring me for my first wear-a-shirt-and-tie-everyday job at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia in the development office. I will be forever grateful that he took a chance on me, a young, not-ordained, 20-something fresh out of seminary with lots to learn.

Larry was a real mentor to me. He taught me three things that I didn’t necessarily appreciate at the time, but which have proved essential in my ministry several years later:

  1. Larry taught me how to be a professional.
  2. Larry showed me how to give, and he expected me to do so.
  3. Larry modeled a great love for the church and its people.

A few years later, after I left the seminary and was working elsewhere, I called him on the anniversary of my hire date and thanked him for giving me my first job. He was touched and surprised by the call. Yet,  I’m not sure that even then I truly appreciated how much he shaped me. As a pastor, I am grateful for the lessons Larry taught me, and I am continually trying to learn those lessons and practice them in my daily work. And I wish I had fully expressed this to him before his unexpected death early last week.

Who is that person in your life who gave you a chance when perhaps you didn’t deserve it? Who taught you life lessons and professional skills that have proved helpful over the years? Who shaped you into the person you are today?

Figure out who that person is, or who those persons are, and track them down. Give them a call or, better yet, write a letter. Write a letter describing what they did for you and how appreciative you are. In fact, write the letter, copy it, and send two copies – one for that mentor, and one for their spouse or safety deposit box or otherwise for safe keeping. Not to be morbid, but if this person is that important to you, you want these words to be available to their family upon her or his death. And, you want to write and send this letter now, if for whatever reason your death predates hers or his, so that she or he and their family has the chance to know what they mean to you.

I have three letters to write – for starters, anyway. The first letter is to Larry’s family. Though I’ve shared some of these thoughts in person, I want them to have it in writing. I only wish I had done this earlier.

I’ll also be writing letters to two men with whom I have little regular contact these days but who were deeply influential in forming me into the man and pastor that I am today. Indeed, not a week goes by in my life and ministry when I do not think of them. They need to know that. And I need to tell them that.

I have three letters to write. How many will you write?