Rev. Clay Horton's recent experiences of death led him to life as only God can do. Read his story:
This past Friday, death brought me to three different places. Death caused me to attend three different services. However, the places where death led me were the places I found life.
The first memorial service I attended was for a founding member of Trietsch. While he died too soon, he lived a long and full life. He's the example of what it means to follow in Jesus's footsteps. While I reflected on his life, I saw the life of our congregation surrounding his family. Death is inevitable for us all, but when we die, the opportunity to celebrate a life well lived is a sacred opportunity. Community, love, family, and friendships were all a part of the service. This man was a reminder of what life can and should be. I went to the service because of his death, but I came away experiencing life.
A couple hours later, I attended a memorial service for an 8-year-old boy whose mother is a member of our church. This boy had special needs and his family knew he wouldn't grow up to be an adult. They cherished every day of his short life. Death was the reason for the service, but his life was the reason that the funeral home was packed.
This boy brought joy to so many people: his family, teachers, bus drivers, and friends. He brought the joy of life to so many people. If he had not been born in this country, in this time and place, he might not have lived 8 years. Some societies have not had the resources or medicine to help children like him while some have not had the compassion. But in America, we recognize that the most vulnerable among us, the ones who often need special accommodations and help, are the ones that can teach us the most about life. His family, school, and community gave him extra attention to ensure that he could experience life to his greatest capacity and in doing so, those around him experienced life fully as well.
I then drove to Congregation Kol Ami. The death of 11 Jewish people who were murdered while worshipping has been weighing me down. Death brought me to this third place as well, but I found life in so many ways. Several hundred people gathered outside the congregation to offer love and support as Jews showed up for their Shabbat service. Christians, Muslims, and people of other faiths or no faith gathered in solidarity to let the Jewish congregation know that they were not alone. Rabbi Dennis came out and spoke. His words brought chills to my skin and a warmth in my soul.
He invited us to worship with them and I decided this would be a great opportunity to worship with my 6-year-old daughter. While in the service, members of the congregation and the Rabbi spoke of the overwhelming support of the community. Within the past week, we saw the worst of humanity that led to death, but we also saw the best of humanity as we've all come together to mourn death and to press on knowing that if we support one another, we experience life. The ancient liturgy within the service reminded me of God's continued presence throughout life, even when we are facing death.
I arrived at home exhausted on Friday. I had confronted death in three different experiences but came away feeling grateful for life and knowing that life is stronger that death. St. Paul says that death has been swallowed up in victory. As Christians, we believe that it is Christ who defeated death and yet, when it comes to our everyday experiences, we know that it is us as individuals who get to choose whether or not we let death win temporarily.
The older man who passed away could have passed away alone, but he was surrounded by family, friends, and church members for months leading up to his death. Those people chose to offer their presence, love, and support. They served selflessly ensuring that his last months were the best they could be. They chose life in the midst of looming death.
Similarly, the young boy's family, teachers, and friends chose life every single day of his short time on this earth. Knowing that his time here was short, they soaked in the good moments with him, cared for one another in the trying times, and chose to make the most of his life. This choice led to life not just for the boy, but everybody who loved him.
Finally, the group that gathered at Congregation Kol Ami and the crowds that gathered with Jews all over the country on Friday night chose to not let death have the final word. It is easy enough to let fear, hatred, and even death spread when it doesn't directly impact us. In our baptismal vows, we commit to "resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves." Resisting evil is not passive, but it is a choice for action. It is a choice to embrace all people with life-giving love.
Today each of us has a choice as well. Death is inevitable for each of us and it's too often all around us, but we can choose to hold up our lives and the lives of those around us as holy and sacred, to find God, in the midst of it all. My prayer for each of us is that we will choose to overcome death by living a life of radical love, not just for ourselves, but for all of God's children.