At a time when words seem to not line up for me, my husband Dave writes:
The Valley of the Shadow, and the Song of Angels
For the first time in my adult life, a family member has died: my sweet father-in-law died as he had lived, gently, on March 24. He viewed all of life in the same way that all of his family viewed him, as a gift from God to be treasured and held joyfully and lightly. His faith became deeper and richer as he aged, and even more so as cancer moved through his body. The family had hung the nickname “El Supremo” on him years earlier, a completely incongruous title for one so humble, and yet it stuck. He signed his emails to me “E.S.”, and I could see his grin as he typed.
There are many in our congregation with first-hand experience of what the psalmist vividly called “the valley of the shadow of death.” There is no escaping the hurt, even though we have been promised an eternity with Christ, in His Father’s house, in new bodies, knowing fully even as we have been fully known, seeing face to face.
My father-in-law died as the choir was in final preparations to sing the glorious “Requiem” by John Rutter. In fact, we were singing the musical setting of the words from Revelation 14 – “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, for they rest from their labors.” The singing continues in Latin, “Lux aeterna luceat eis”, “May light eternal shine upon them.” The music at that point is ethereal and weightless, as if the gravitational force of care and suffering has been removed. “Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine” – grant them eternal rest, Lord.
And then the angels came to our home, and sang a song of life.
Nope, they were not as described in the Gospels – they wore jeans and glamorous hats and carried rubber gloves and dusters and mops. A team of sweet friends came and gave my wife (and me, since I’m fortunate enough to be married to Ann) a great gift: they cleaned out our dirty home. As surely as Lazarus’ tomb smelled better after the stone was rolled away, our house gave up its dirt and grime and dog-smell. Dirty clothes were washed and folded, floors mopped, the refrigerator cleaned. Those angels were singing the very song of life into our shadowy valley, at a time that we were simply unable to remember the tune. It wasn’t a jubilant song of triumph – it was the song of a servant’s heart, of laying down self for another.
This is what my brother has called a “tantalizing taste of the Kingdom.” It is the song of the Risen Lord sung into us, the song of the inbreaking Kingdom. It is like the card I received from one of the LCs, written with shaky hand, reminding me that she is praying for me – “Tell all your family that Jesus loves ‘em, a whole lot.”
Be reminded – and remind one another – of the Lord’s love, tender and fierce, of His companionship and presence, here and now, of the hope that is ours in His resurrection. We have the privilege to be angels for one another, to minister in Christ’s name. Speak Scripture into the lives and hurts of those around you: the Lord rejoices over you with song, now; even in the valley of the shadow of death, He is with you now, rod and staff at the ready; when Elijah said, “It is enough, let me die,” God said, “Have something to eat and drink now, then lie down and take a nap;” in the midst of his small, lonely world, Zacchaeus learned that Jesus wanted to have lunch with him, now; when your friend cries at the death of a loved one, stand close, and remind them that Jesus also wept at the tomb of Lazarus. “Come to me,” Jesus said, “and I will give you rest” – now, though not nearly in the way it will be then.
The memorial service (appropriately, the day before Easter) concluded with another angel (disguised as Tim Pennigar) singing “Give Me Jesus” – “In the morning when I rise,…and when I am alone,…and when I come to die, give me Jesus.”
The songs of the angels – sung through cards we have received, phone calls, hugs, cleaning solvent, and a loaf of banana bread – remind us of the tangible presence of Christ, seen, felt, experienced through His body at Blacknall. We need not fear; His rod and His staff, His body and His song, are with us. He has overcome the grave, and because of that we have hope. My father-in-law’s faith is now sight. And our valley is lighter, and smells sweeter.
Thanks for singing –