I recently saw Avengers: Endgame. Don’t worry, no spoilers were created in the making of this article. The day the tickets went on sale, Nicole sat at her desk fervently pressing the ‘refresh’ button on the site; millions of folks were trying to see the culmination of ten years’ time. We were so excited when the purchase went through—we’re huge Marvel fans and couldn’t WAIT to see the last movie.
So, the weeks went by and last Sunday, we were on our way. We settled in and ordered food (as one does at bougie movie joints), watched excitedly as the previews for the upcoming movies played, and nervously prognosticated what might happen in the next three hours.
Then. It was finished.
A great movie to be certain, but I left the theater both satisfied and yet, a little sad. This was the end. There would be no more ‘Avenging’ for me…just what had already passed. I thought about it for a while; these movies have been produced over the majority of Nicole and my relationship. They were part of our beginning, middle, and present culture. We toss around quotes, knowing that the other ‘gets it’. We have fond memories of anticipating the next movie, getting excited about who we’d go with, and what would happen. But this was it. The last stand. The last movie of an epic adventure.
There have been so many ‘firsts’ at Church of the Resurrection in the last two years. So many new and exciting things. And all of us have been on a wild ride. But there have also been some ‘lasts’, too. The last day I saw Monty. The last time Emily Hileman would come to church as a ‘youth’. The last time we heard Britney and Ponder sing with us. The last service Mtr. Beth and Rex would worship with us. While the ‘firsts’ are joyful and exhilarating, the lasts can be hard…painful.
There will be more of these ‘lasts’ in the coming years. People will come, people will leave; either by virtue of mortality or of necessity to be in a different town. But the time we have together now…that’s what makes us, ‘us’. There will be the ‘last movie’ so to speak, concerning members of our congregation. The last scenes of what has been so far, an epic adventure.
The point I’m getting at is this: We have been given the grace to live in a stolen season together, a time in which we make ourselves and each other better people. By doing so, we also make the world a little bit better. Last week, we had another ‘last’; Bee Delbridge is moving on to a new community down South and she won’t be with us anymore. This past Monday, Tom and Tawana Ruder told the vestry that they are moving to Kansas City. Tom has accepted a promotion within his job and the move is necessary. While I’ll miss him as Junior Warden, the deep sadness comes with missing them both as a vibrant pair of evangelists who have brought others to share in this beloved community, and have made it brighter by their presence.
With a smaller congregation, we feel those losses. We notice them, we miss the people, and we wish they wouldn’t go. But life has a funny way of sending people forth, in life itself and even in death. In life, we sometimes have to say goodbye to folks who are moving somewhere else. In death, we say goodbye to our loved ones with hope of a swift reunion in the graceful presence of God.
As Christians, we know death isn’t permanent. We know that we’ll be in the company of those we love, eventually. Grief uninvitingly accompanies us after death, but does not diminish the love we have for those who pass. Life is much the same, but holds a different hope. In life, when someone departs for another place, we also grieve. But we hold the hope that their time here has impacted them so that they can be sent out to a new place to be disciples, there. To lend their time, talent, and treasure…and most importantly, their love…to somewhere and someplace new. But the work continues for us, here. In those absences, new souls will find their way to us. New relationships will begin and new ministries will thrive. While we grieve the departed, we must also cling to hope for the not-yet arrived. So for Bee, for Tawana and Tom, for Beth and Rex, for Britney, for Ponder, and for anyone else who has moved or will move on to a new community, we say God bless you, God keep you safe, and God remind you that you come from a long line of love that starts at the altar rail, and follows you wherever you go.
Love that remains strong, and love that you can always call home. And love that never ends.