Full confession. Those of us in ministry talk a great deal about life, death, resurrection, and new life. It’s a good thing. It’s pretty much core to who we are, and why we do what we do. But what you may not know, is that facing the questions of life and death are no easier for those of us in ministry. Even though we talk about it, when the moment comes, it makes it no less jarring, hard, and emotional.
Yesterday was such a day as this. On what should have been a day of celebration and joy, celebrating Allison’s birthday, this day of celebration also included a day of hard goodbyes to our beloved Buddy.
Buddy was a cat who came into our family about half way through his life. When we met him, it was clear his name was “Buddy” and it would not be changing. But his name was perfectly appropriate. In the Humane Society in St. Paul, Minnesota on the south side of Como Park, it was Buddy who claimed us. It was sort of baptismal in a way. We sat down in a room, and Buddy jumped up not into my lap, but in the space on the chair between my back and the chair’s back. I knew right then and there, we were now his people.
For the next seven years, we were his people. He would give voice and spirit to our family Christmas letters every year. He would train us on how he would drink water. He was not some simple cat that would drink out of a water dish on the floor. Oh no, he required a mug or cup on a table slightly off the ground. Eventually we figured out his needs. And he loved us, and we loved him.
Buddy loved us so much, he willingly (or at least begrudgingly) tolerated moving across country twice. He was with us in the ups, downs, joys, and challenges of discernment, new jobs and calls, new friendships, uncertainties of what’s next, and all of the wrestling with the Holy Spirit that comes with being a ministry family.
Perhaps most importantly, he lived. He was the first creature dependent on Allison and I as a family team, and whether because of us or yet in spite of us, he lived. And the fact that he lived I think helped put our minds at ease about the thought that perhaps we might survive and one day be okay parents. And so Buddy was there when we brought Caroline home, and greeted her and for the first year of her life, and would be there every step of the way over the next year. When baby was in her parent’s arms, Buddy was often either in their lap or at their side in a chair or on the couch. And Buddy was my buddy every morning, greeting me as I started my routine. Today felt very odd to not have my faithful companion greet me.
Buddy was a great buddy, but also an awesome big brother. Perhaps that’s why it hurts so much more today. It hurts having said goodbye, but it hurts too, knowing and deeply believing how much Buddy loved us and claimed us all as his people. Yet even though there is hurt, there is a promise.
As Allison and I were holding him and beside Buddy at the end yesterday afternoon, he saw us. He knew us. He felt us, and us him. We prayed. We cried. We remembered. We gave thanks. As we prayed, we blessed him and commended him to God’s love and care, trusting that he was being welcomed to the heavenly feast, to to be joined by family pets from generations before him, and family that have claimed their baptismal promises. Allison remarked that he probably would have an ideal room in that great mansion where he could watch all the birds outside, one of his absolute favorite past times.
It was hard yesterday. It was certainly not the best birthday for Allison ever. But it was also a beautiful day. I can’t help but think that Buddy knew how important Easter was, having been in this ministry family for so long. He made it through Easter Sunday, and that was a gift. He left us at 2:15pm on the Wednesday after Easter Sunday, on a beautiful 70 degree sunny day. A day where even though there were tears, felt like a day of resurrection.
This Easter season which we are now in, is a season with the promise and hope of the resurrection at its center. I cling to that promise today, giving thanks for Buddy and his fifteen years, and especially his seven with us. I cling to that promise today, giving thanks for another year of the life of my partner who brings meaning, joy, humor, and hands to hold, and a shoulder to cry on and cry with, on hard days like yesterday. I cling to that promise, giving thanks for Caroline’s presence in our world, and especially as she starts crawling everywhere and trying to walk, but also as we watched and greeted her after she had minor surgery for tubes in her ears today.
Life, death, and resurrection. These aren’t easy things, to be sure. But God is present in them, and makes them possible. And because of God, death isn’t the final word. Alleluia! And because Christ is Risen, Indeed, so we too can cling to God’s presence and love for us, that we too, on that day will rise again. And in the meantime, we cling to each other, to our memories and stories of those who have gone before us, and we share that love that we have felt and know with those we meet in our lives.
Life, death, and resurrection. These are real things. These are things we all face at different times. They draw us closer. They bring our emotions, and together as we bear each other, we don’t move on from them, but we witness to them and live and grow through them. Thanks be to God for Allison. Thanks be to God for Caroline. And thanks be to God for Buddy, a faithful companion of the first degree, and a pet, yes, but oh so much more, as all of you who have pets (and/or have had pets) know. He really was another important member of the family, and now may he rest and live with his gracious and loving creator. Amen.