Our daughter had her last basketball game yesterday. She has participated for three years so it was another milestone of Senior year. Yesterday was her best game ever. We missed her first basket however, she got a second basket right in front of us. Baby Boy, who loves basketball in a way unfathomable to me (he is not yet two), was in seventh heaven as the girls played some ten feet away from his little chair.
With two minutes to go in the game I got a text from our older son to pick him up from baseball practice (about three miles across town). I ran out to get him, knowing that the girls would mill around after the game. Son was delayed for a few minutes so I waited then we headed back to pick up Mom and baby.
When I called my wife she was obviously shaken. She explained on the phone that everything was okay, but that something horrible had happened. A couple minutes later we arrived in the lot. When she got into the car and began to tell us her eyes got teary. Here is what she said. After the game the girls were in a typically giddy, celebratory mood. One of the girls picked up her cell phone and a moment later let out a piecing scream as she fell to the floor. There was a great deal of chaos as the poor girl cried uncontrollably. One of the mothers got her phone and read the message. It was from the girl's father. You mom's dead.
My wife had trouble saying the words, even as I do typing them. And like most of you reading them, there is something about the message which does not make sense. Why would anyone text such a thing to an unsuspecting child? The adults tried to reassure the sobbing child that it must be a terrible prank, that someone had hacked the phone. A mother directed another girl to make calls to the father, and the horror gave way to relief soon after. The message was that your mom's cell phone is dead. The father had inadvertantly sent a message which did not clearly communicate what he intended to say. As we left the parking lot my wife pointed to three girls and indicated that the middle one had been the unfortunate recipient of the sad text. We watched as the girl and her mother (who had just arrived) embraced. An hour or so later my own daughter arrived home, and her words to me reinforced what my wife had said, "Dad that was the worst thing I have ever seen, I am still shaken up."
Obviously what happened was real. One of their guy friends said he was going to go home and hug his mom. Yet the reality was based on a misconception so it was unreal. In truth her mother was not dead at all, a cell phone was. So it is strange that I find myself emotionally moved by something which did not really happen (and which I did not witness) and yet the reality of this fictive moment is powerful.
Two nights ago I was watching more episodes of Downton Abbey. A young man, wounded in the war, lay dying. My wife came in and asked, "are you crying." Embarassed, but honest, I said, "this is so sad." And it is sad even if it is a tv show. It is sad because in real life World War I did massacre a generation of Englishmen. Young men cut down in the prime of life, men like this boy who served at tables in a great house, whose last tortured breaths were caused by the pain and suffering of human folly, violence and destruction. Fiction is based on real life after all. Real moms can and do die. Someone's mom died as I began to write this, and other moms have died as I continued to write. I am touched by tragedy almost daily. Sometimes in the news, or closer to home, the losses of parishioners. Sometimes it is a parishioner. Or a friend. Or, me.... And sometimes it is in a fictional account. Perhaps the real losses are what we mourn when we are touched by fiction.
As we drove home, a police officer signalled us over. Not to worry, he is a former parishioner. In Junior high when we first came to St. Andrews, he is now in his mid-twenties and expecting his first baby in the Fall. His mother was my wife's best friend in the parish. A few days ago was the anniversary of her passing. She dropped dead at her husband's birthday party. It was the worst loss we have suffered together as a family. Talking with him about the event a few minutes earlier at the basketball game made it a bit more difficult. After all, we were part of the moment when he learned that his mom was dead. And there was no clearing up any misconceptions or miscommunications for him.
The reality is moms die. So do dads. And children, sometimes very young children. And sometimes it is a relief. Many times it is a horror. Some death is drawn out and painful. Other is unexpected and sudden. Death is always death. Our sorrows are real. Yet there is reason to hope. Today, many of us will hear Exodus 3 as the first reading at our church service. It is the burning bush text. God appears to Moses. It conveys one of my favorite messages in the Ancient Covenant texts. (I have about thirty favorite verses!) Moses is shepherding sheep (allusion: King David). God appears in the fire which consumes but does not destroy (the mystery of God--power and danger).A voice speaks, "Moses, you are on HOLY ground, get your shoes off." (A reminder that God is holy and we aren't. A reminder that the Loving God is still God. Proceed with great respect). Moses responds "Here I [am]." The verb "to be" can often be missing in written texts, it is understood. I noticed the back and forth of "I am" as both Moses and God use the phrase repeatedly. What God says to Moses, though, is key for understanding His identity. I have seen their oppression, I have heard their cries, I know their sorrows. When we cry out "Mom is dead!" the same is true. God sees, He hears and He knows. What follows is the two fold movement, God declares "I have come down to deliver them... to bring them up to the good (Promised) land." "Down" and "Up" are the directions of salvation. God descends so we ascend. And there is good reason to hear "raised up" in these words and there is good reason to discern resurrection here. In the end, resurrection is God's greatest redemptive act. It is the only act that makes the words "mom is dead" null and void. Mom is dead, but she will rise again. God has seen, He hears, He knows, and He comes down to bring us up.
However, the salvation of God, His mighty act to save, in this case (and most other, almost all other pen-ultimate acts of salvation) is mediated. In the end God does it all, prior to the final resurrection, however He saves sacramentally. God tells Moses, I have come down to rescue my people, so I am sending you. You, Moses, in and through you, God saves. Jesus is the perfection of that mediated, in and through, activity of God. But He is unique in being perfect, not in being a mediator... Moses was too. Same can be said for you and I.
"Where is God?," they ask. Sometimes with unbelieving disdain. Sometimes with intellectual curiosity. Sometimes in anguish and pain. "Where is God?" The answer is "Here I [I is you or me] am" and I [you or me] am the one sent by "I am Who I am [God]." Fortunately, that girl's mom was not dead, a cell phone battery was. Fortunately, it was a case of poorly composed text messaging. But in either case, God saw, heard and knew. And God came down to bring her up. And the way He acted was through people whom He sent [sent ones=apostles!]. People like you and me, literally, you and me. Sent by the God Who saves. The same friends who gathered around to comfort her, and celebrate with her the good news that her mom was not dead but very much alive would have gathered with her and loved and supported her had the text been accurate. It is what we do. We hold each other up in such times. I know. I have seen it, over and over again. God is among us, in and through us.
And a weary, battered world full of people suffering real losses need God to hear, to see, to know and to respond in and through His people. And we respond again and again, until His kingdom wipes away every tear.