My friend Deacon Jerry came to mass today and that doesn’t seem all that weird except for the fact that he died a couple of weeks ago. During the Eucharistic prayers, several of my friends who art in Heaven gather around the altar and I acknowledge them there and pray for their families and their intentions. Some of them are as close to me as my mother, some I’ve never met, but there’s a group of nine that’s been there for a good while. From right to left, there’s my Mom, my friend Julie, a woman I’ve never met named Holly, a child I’ve never met whose name is also Holly. A friend named Bryan, another named Rich. A young girl named Jackie, two Moms who died young, Carolyn and Anna. And now there’s ten. Deacon Jerry made his way to the middle of the group this morning, wearing red, winking at me, and saying, “You’ve been doing this the whole time? Good trick, kid.”
Sometimes others join the group on a temporary basis, like at the funeral mass we celebrated today. Doris was ninety-five years old, and I felt Deacon Jerry welcome her into the gathering as the priest said the prayers. At different masses, I’ve felt the presence of friends’ mothers and fathers, and then turn from my music minister position on the altar to look out to the congregation to see those same friends wiping tears away. And I think: they feel them, too. It’s funny, isn’t it? This veil that separates us from our loved ones is so thin sometimes.
If you were sitting in the congregation, you’d never know any of this was happening, in my mind’s eye or imagination or the stunning reality of the Heavenly host, whichever of these you think this is. I choose to believe they’re present, truly, at this most sacred time, celebrating with us as the real, live Communion of the Saints we all learned about as children. They’re with us. They’re not far away.
My Mom also showed up in yoga class this week, which you might think is odd because she never did yoga when she was alive and probably wouldn’t have liked it too much. But on the other hand, it’s a place I feel her on a semi-regular basis, probably because my body is active enough that my mind and my spirit can slow down enough to discern her presence. She often shows up in savasana, that quiet time at the end of class. On this particular day, she wordlessly held me like a baby and I cried that way, too, right on my mat. It’s not uncommon, crying in yoga class. It’s something my teachers say they’ve seen many times before. It’s another of those thin places.
One of the readings at this morning’s funeral was from Isaiah, the one which talks about Heaven as a banquet that takes place on a mountain, where the web or veil of death is removed and all our tears are wiped away. It sounds amazing and I’m looking forward to it (I love a good party), but I wonder if it’s possible that it doesn’t happen all at once in some dramatic fashion. Maybe it happens quietly and expansively, like the growing of a mustard seed or yeast working its way through dough. Maybe it happens step-by-step on both sides of the veil as we walk each other Home as the Family we are. One thing I know for sure: there is so much happening that we can’t quite see. One day, God willing, we will.
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
And he will swallow up on this mountain
the covering that is cast over all peoples,
the veil that is spread over all nations.
He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,
and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.