On Saturday, September 3, 2016 my church gathered to celebrate the life of a gentleman who just two weeks before had been a vibrant, healthy father and academic. Then he was stung by a wasp.
Services for those who die suddenly or “too soon” have a different rhythm and tone than those for someone in their nineties or who has had a long illness.
In this case, the family had asked for four speakers, so it was important that I address the theological issue of the day (“Why?!”) succinctly, then allow the rest to tell his story.
Our last reading today, the familiar passage in Ecclesiastes, says that there is a time for everything in life, the good and the bad. But I think I speak for the family and all of us gathered here when I say this was not Chet’s time to die. This was not somehow his cosmic turn, one ordained in the stars, or dictated by the divine. Chet is gone too soon, well before his time.
Over the course of this summer our church has been studying the book of Job. Job’s story of wholescale loss, his argument with well-meaning friends, and his poetic dialogue with God, give voice to our own confusion and pain and anger on a day like today.
And although later editors tried to explain away Job’s suffering, the ancient poem ultimately says that “Why?” is not the question in senseless death. Instead, the question holiness actually answers is “What is?” What is life?
Life is uncontrollable wildness, a tapestry of biology and chance, infused with the sacred and partnered with death. Chet’s biology could not withstand its chance encounter with wildness. And so death came.
And in each moment that he drew breath and the one in which he stopped, Chet was in the presence of God.
At the end of Job, a community of family and friends who are family, help to rebuild the daily life Job had lost. They could not replace those who had died, but they could ensure that he was not alone in grieving and the necessary taking of steps and breathing of breaths. It is our sorrow and our privilege to do that today for Chet’s loving family.
What is life? It is loving, even though we know we will lose what we love, it is living richly and bravely within God’s wild tapestry.