When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ — John 20:19
You may not have guessed it. In fact, it may surprise some of you that your pastor is, by nature, a skeptic: one inclined to doubt in religious and/or spiritual matters. So, you can imagine what went through my mind when my eldest sister Jean called in March to tell me of her close encounter of another kind.
“We’re never really alone and we’re probably being reminded of it all the time.”
Let me preface by telling you that Jean is the most free-spirited in our extended family. Once, she unexpectedly flashed her chest to one of my brothers-in-law, (who was seated at the other end of our dining room table, complaining of weakening eyesight) saying “Here, can you see these?” Fortunately, most of us were looking in his direction.
Jean also likes to hold a needle and thread over the stomach of expecting mothers to predict the sex of their babies…with an astonishing degree of success, I might add. She also grew up during the early 70’s when Mary Jane and other recreational drugs were plentiful. So, you get my picture.
“Dave,” she said with obvious excitement when I answered her call. “You won’t believe what happened to me today. I was in my car on the way to our Poconos home when I came to a detour. I was feeling frustrated, but the next thing I knew Dad was in the car talking to me. I remembered coming to a detour when I’d been in the car with him as a little girl and how he’d reassured me that we would be fine… it was an opportunity to explore unfamiliar territory. And there he was again sitting next to me. I could hear his voice and see his nostrils flaring like they used to every time he was getting ready to say something funny.”
“Then, all of a sudden, he was gone and a hawk appeared, out of nowhere, just outside of my driver’s side window and flew beside me for a long time, flapping his great wings. Hawks have always been my sign bird. And then, when I called Diane (our youngest sister) to tell her what had happened, she asked ‘Did I know?’ ‘Did I know what?’, I asked. “Did you know that today is the anniversary of Dad’s death 11 years ago? So, Dave’ she asked, ‘What do you think about that?’”
Too afraid to tell her what I, the family priest, was really thinking, I tried to match her excitement and said something profound like “Wow!…That’s something!” While I’m a skeptic by nature, I’ve heard my share of similar stories and lived long enough to know that there are certain things that happen in life that are outside of my own experience and seemingly beyond reason. So, who is really to say about these things?
Clearly, for my sister, this had been an epiphanal moment. Who’s to say the dead don’t make themselves known to the living? According to my late Aunt Margaret, Jesus came and appeared to her when she was a young girl making her bed one morning. If you saw her face while she was telling her story, you couldn’t help but believe. In the gospel of John, after his crucifixion and death, Jesus appears to his disciples who are hiding behind locked doors in an upper room. Later, he appears to his disciples along the Sea of Galilee. And, the Apostle Paul writes how Jesus appeared to him in a blinding light on the Road to Damascus.
“That’s something,” I said to her trying to sound convincing. “It’s a thin veil that separates the living from the living. It’s probably more permeable than we think.” Looking back, instead of trying to explain mystery, the pastoral thing would have been to ask her what her experience had meant for her. As a brother, I should have asked how old my father looked and did he have his teeth in.
It’s a mystery this life, but I believe it’s a shared life. We’re never really alone and we’re probably being reminded of it all the time. I guess, it’s whether or not we have eyes to see and ears to hear.
— Pastor Dave