Jesus who died will be satisfied

Today, I am publishing a (slightly revised version of a) post that I originally wrote almost two years ago for a youth Sunday School class at Trinity UMC in Durham, NC.  The book we were working with had a journalling component – and other activities for us to do on our own or in small groups during the week and then to discuss together in class on Sunday.

Yesterday, we were asked to select a favorite worship song to work with as part of our prayer time.   This is a nearly impossible task for me.   I love to sing, and I have been singing in worship since I was a preschooler with an unusually long attention span.  My Dad was a preacher, and I was a preacher, and for the past three years, my husband has been playing hymns on the piano at home almost every night.   I cannot count how many hymns about which I have excitedly whispered, “This is one of my favorites!” as the introduction was played – to the point that it became a running joke with my husband.

Very often, when I find myself unable to settle on a topic, I end up not doing the assignment at all. Guided meditations are the same way – “Think about one of your favorite places…”   By the time my mind has settled on something, the facilitator is 3 steps ahead of me, and I have no idea what I am supposed to be thinking about next!  Yesterday was no different.  I was so frustrated by the first step that I just set the assignment aside.

But today in the car, driving around with Hannah and feeling the need for some God centered time in the midst of a hectic week, I popped in Amy Grant’s Legacy…Hymns and Faith.  And I found myself right away singing along to “This is My Father’s World.”

I could spend a whole blog just talking about the many memories I have associated with this particular hymn, but I will restrict myself to one – to the day when the Twin Towers crumbled, and I walked with more than 100 other dazed first semester seminarians into Dr. Warren Smith’s introductory Church history class, and he opened class with this prayer:

This is My Father’s World, Oh let me never forget that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the Ruler yet.

The words were just what I needed to hear – and I could almost hear the collective exhale of myself and my classmates as we remembered where the real power in the world lies.  (Thanks, Dr. Smith, for being a pastor to your students – in that moment and in many others!)

The “assignment” in our book asks us to consider a particular portion of the song, and while you might expect me to chose those lines, I instead want to focus on the lines that follow it in the old Cokesbury hymnal:

This is my Father’s world, the battle is not done; Jesus who died shall be satisfied, and earth and heaven be one.

When I chose the hymn to sing with the congregations I was serving in southeastern Virginia, I used this version, because I preferred those last lines to the ones that are more familiar to most folks – the last lines that are in the United Methodist Hymnal, the last lines that I sang along with Amy Grant this morning.

{As an aside – I decided to investigate which lines were the more authentic, and it turns out that the author didn’t write them as a hymn at all, but as a 16 stanza poem, with each stanza beginning with the words “This is my Father’s world” – so each verse of the 3 verse hymn we sing today is actually 2 stanzas of the original poem.  The lines I quoted above are the next to the last stanza of  the poem.  The lines that replace them in the UMHymnal are found in the last stanza.}

So – to get back to the curriculum – we were asked to consider what the words we chose teach us about God’s love.  It certainly helps me to consider that the world as it is is not what God intended for us.  Heaven and earth are not yet one – they will be one.  We are in the midst of a battle that is not done.  But Jesus’ love for us points towards the inevitable end that is a new beginning – heaven and earth will be one!  This is profoundly good news, and indicates how much God loves us and all creation!

What is one of your favorite hymns?  What does it say to you about God’s love?  Does it help you imagine how you might share the joy of that love with others?

Father-less Day?

Last year was the first Father’s Day since my own Dad died. In the United Methodist Church, Annual Conferences are typically held around Father’s Day – including the Virginia Annual Conference, in which my Dad was an ordained elder. So last year, instead of being home with my husband – my daughter’s father – I was in Roanoke, Virginia. The Saturday night before Father’s Day was the time appointed for the annual memorial service for pastors who have died in the past year, and I wanted to be there with my mother. She and I skipped church the next morning – neither of us were much in the mood to hear a single word about fathers – and instead spent the day driving back to her home outside Richmond, bemoaning that it was hard to find an antique store in Southern Virginia that was open before noon on a Sunday. Antiques shopping instead of church? It was almost as if we were calculating ways to pretend my sternly Sabbath-keeping father had never existed.

For me, my best ally in processing my grief has been my astute and sensitive five year old, who still has moments of being “sad about Grandpa Cosby.” (Not to knock my wonderful husband, friends, and therapist – I have a great team!) Hannah asks very intelligent questions, like “Is Grandpa Cosby still your Dad?” (yes!) and “Does Grandpa Cosby still have a birthday?” (yes!) And as I have talked about my continuing relationship with him and about my memories of him, I have felt his loss a little less keenly. I still have a father, even if he is not reachable by telephone.

I remember last year, feeling the loss so deeply – it was Father’s Day, and I had no one to call! But this year, celebrating at home with my husband and my daughter, I didn’t have time to think about it – every day of the past week was consumed with Hannah’s plans for making her Daddy’s Father’s Day “the best ever!!”  Keeping alive the flower she picked many days too early, making cards, planning a special breakfast in bed…  And then on to the Episcopal Church – not least because I can count on those reliably liturgical Episcopalians to leave these civil holidays nearly unmentioned.  I do not exaggerate to pray, “On Father’s Day, I thank you for the Episcopalians, most merciful God.”

I am an American – in this world, if not of it (I hope) – and so I do still find it not just impossible, but undesirable to escape celebrating Father’s Day.  There are lots of men I could call today – to thank them for being there for me, to encourage them in their own fathering… with the aid of a year of growth and reflection, I can see that I am certainly not without anyone to call on Father’s Day. And I must remember to call my mother on this Father’s Day – a woman who long ago lost her father, and more recently lost her step-father and then the father of her own children.  I wonder if she wonders who to call today?  I wonder if she went to church today? I wonder, if she did, if it was a healing or a wounding hour spent in the pew?

We who grieve on this day are not alone – there are many more like us. Rather than organizing our day around our loss – at least as the years go by – I pray that we find ways to celebrate what we had and continue to carry with us, and the many fathers we know and love who are still a telephone call away.  And I pray that the church continues to find ways to nurture those who need true comfort on the days when the culture seems to exclude their grief.