One of the most powerful parts about church is the way in which our community bears the presence of all those who have touched it in the past. We are a living body, and yet our shape and identity does not only extend to the living.
This week marks the first anniversary of the death of Rev. Kim Smith-Nilsson. For many of you who knew and loved Kim, and who were known and loved by her, this is a tender time.
Here’s a truth about loss: in the stories we tell, in the songs that we sing, in photographs, in beloved objects, in something as simple as a gesture or a word, people come back. Their spirits don’t leave us.
In Christianity, we have a name for this–the communion of saints. This doctrine, which goes all the way back to the early church, comes from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” In Christ, God holds Kim, and you, and me, along with all those who have gone before us.
I’m not suggesting that death has no sting. Or that cancer doesn’t suck. It does. But I am saying that absence and presence do a strange dance together in this life.
Listen to what the novelist Marilynne Robinson writes about Jesus: “There was a moment in which Jesus, as a man, a physical presence, left that supper at Emmaus. His leave-taking was a profound event for which the supper itself was precursor. “Presence is a great mystery, and presence in absence, which Jesus promised and has epitomized, is, at a human scale, a great reality for all of us in the course of ordinary life.”
I think Robinson is right. “Presence in absence” gets at something close to what I feel during the sacrament of Communion, or when I pray, or when I think about my relatives and friends who have passed on.
I never got to meet Kim. But in so many small ways, as I am beginning to know you, I am learning how she left her mark on First Church. Our lives grow fuller and brighter because of who she was. Join us in worship this Sunday, February 26 at 5 pm, when we say a special prayer of remembrance for Kim.