Pretty much nothing is as good as a wedding where you love the people getting married a whole lot, and they love God. Such an event lured me back to Newcastle on the weekend, though I didn’t need much persuading. Seeing Matt’s face when Katie walked down the aisle, hearing them exchange vows and praising our great God for his kindness to us in Jesus was immensely joyful. Witnessing it alongside many of my favourite NCS and church people iced that joy cake good.
Being in Newcastle made me realise just how much I love and am loved. It reminded me that I miss, but in the best possible way. It is right that this goodbye is hard; the hurt is good in that sense. If I leave and never look back, then what were those years – coffees, bible readings, prayers, tears, laughs and hugs for? And oh how sweet were the reunion hugs.. of the little ones I barely got the chance to teach, and of those in my very first Sunday School class at GECN, my very first hug-givers there. Sweet conversations also with precious friends who I never knew I missed quite so much until the moment they crinkled their eyes in that familiar way, patted my arm, reminded me of a story, treated me easily like a person they know nuance of, rather than one for whom the pieces are still coming together. I love the missing of my Newcastle family who made my life rich and beautiful for 5 special years, and it aches happily in this heart of mine as I thank God for each one.
Today I visited a cemetery in Sydney with my Nan, the first one I have been to for years. Going in I felt almost nothing – thankfulness to be able to be part of something that was special and important to her, but nothing of my own grief. Leaving was entirely different… I felt stirred up and sad and quiet. There are reasons for those emotions, some that I will not explain, but the act of visiting a grave of someone you loved or love still should surely be such? It was mostly for my Nan that I cried behind my sunnies, because I rarely think of the life she has lived and credit it to her. For the calm acceptance, for the wistful remembering and for the way that death will never make sense, amplified a thousand times outside of Jesus and the hope his resurrection brings for those who trust in him.
The wedding photos on the double headstones and the inscriptions that summed up a life and the too close together dates and the old section with its crumbled stone and the lack of flowers next to ostentatious displays – made me feel heavy inside. The browning, flaking wreaths purchased new a day after Valentines day, another unwelcome reminder of the unrelenting passage of time. And this ceremony, the revering and the venerating that this forgotten part of our city knows all too well, struck me as desperately insufficient. Our hearts cry out for more than a memory, more than a life explained in “pay per letter” script, so much more than someone to tend to the flowers after we are gone. Our hearts cry out for Jesus, slain for sinners, risen as the first-fruit of a harvest to come. And for the hope that believers have at death, that as seeds buried in the soil*, one day they will rise to join their king in glory.
“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” Revelation 21:4
*Here is an incredible sermon on this topic from ‘Engage’ 2011. It costs $2, but is worth about a million more in the joy it will impart. xo