Prepare the Way


Saturday will be the first memorial service I’ve participated in for a clergy member.

Jim had been retired from parish ministry for quite a few years, but his last Call was to the congregation where I now pastor.  When I arrived here six years ago he went out of his way to both make me feel welcome and to ensure that I had no misgivings about the fact that he still lived in the area.  He worshiped at another congregation.  He only attended my congregation on special occasions – usually memorial services.  But he always seemed worried that I would view his presence as some sort of threat or interference.  Former pastors can be a source of contention for new pastors, and in our circles the rule of thumb is that once you retire from a congregation, you need to find a different place to worship.

Jim followed that advice faithfully, but I never worried about him, and wouldn’t have worried at all even if he was in the pews every Sunday.  He wasn’t the sort of guy to cause problems, and  I think in the past couple of years he recognized that I trusted this and  he relaxed a little bit.

It’s a pleasure doing a memorial for a pastor – or at least this pastor – because he had instructions all laid out for what he wanted at his memorial.  Bible verses and hymns selected, with several different options of both depending on what season of the Church year he died in.  His family didn’t have to struggle over what to do or how to do it – he had instructions prepared in advance.  Note to readers – I don’t care how old you are – take the time to jot down some notes regarding your memorial service and put them someplace where people can find them.  Those you leave behind will be very thankful, as well as whomever will be conducting the service.  This is advice I need to follow myself as well!

In this matter, as in matters of the faith, Jim fulfilled the theme indicated on our  Advent paraments.  He prepared the way.  It was what he did as a pastor and chaplain, and it’s what he does still now as he guides myself and the others who will conduct his memorial.  Preparing the way so that we can not simply commemorate a wonderful man, but preach the Gospel that defined his life, his death, and his life now as he continues to wait for the return of his King.  But now He waits in glory, in the presence of God the Father.  No more back pains.  No more struggles with an increasingly bewildering world or an increasingly challeged church.    Peace. Joy.  Victory.

Advent points us to the return of our King and to a day when we too will know perfect peace, joy, and victory.  Not on the basis of how good we’ve been, but rather on the basis of the perfect gift of God – his incarnate Son, Jesus the Christ.  All those who put their faith and trust in this are to give witness to their hope in their lives in different shapes and forms as they’re equipped by the Holy Spirit.  Some are called into roles specifically to help prepare the way, to shepherd and guide, to teach and preach and give God’s people the good gifts of God – his Word and Sacraments.

Regardless of our role, though, we all have a final opportunity to point the way to others when we die and when we call our friends and family together for Christian memorial.  It isn’t to remind everyone how great we were, but to once again prepare and point the way, so that others know where we are, whose we are, and that they might follow in trust and faith, hope and joy.  That’s what Advent – and life – are all about.

Rest in peace.  The way is prepared for you.





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