I miss my friend Mary. We spoke by phone most weekday mornings between 5:45 and 6:15 for 20 years. She would already be at her church readying the materials for sandwiches to be prepared for the homeless or planning the rehearsal for first communion for the second graders. I was usually still at home in my bathrobe with a cup of coffee and a candle lit.
Mary died on the last day of 2019, and one of my comforts during this pandemic has been that she didn’t have to deal with it. I doubt it would have slowed her down. Mary was a tiny woman who walked very fast and even at 80 years of age, she reminded her parishioners of the Energizer bunny. She would have figured out ways to continue offering pastoral care and comfort to church members one way or another even in a pandemic.
Our calls never lasted long, maybe 15 or 20 minutes. We would acknowledge the beauty of the morning. Offer our awareness that the mornings were getting lighter as spring approached or the magnificence of the starlit sky in the fall and winter. Each of us would read a passage from a daily devotional book, then confide our irritations with co-workers or frustrations with our denominations. We shared our concerns for individuals or families in our care. Politics and current events might also be added into the conversation. Always, we promised to pray for each other throughout the day. The next day we might report on how things turned out.
In the days following the crucifixion, I can only imagine how much the friends of Jesus missed him. They had been constant companions of Jesus in a very personal, intimate spiritual community. They missed Jesus so much that they didn’t recognize him when he appeared to them after he had been raised from the dead.
Mary, finding the tomb empty, thought Jesus was the gardener and demanded, “ Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him.” It was only when he said her name, “Mary,” that she recognized him. (John 20:15-16).
Later the same day there is the story of two disciples walking the seven miles to Emmaus. They were distraught and rehashing the crucifixion and the Easter morning empty tomb when they were joined by Jesus, but their eyes could not recognize him. They saw him as a stranger, even though he talked to them and argued with them about the scriptures that were fulfilled in the recent events. As nightfall was approaching, they arrived at their destination. Jesus began to walk on, but they called him back and urged him to stay with them and have dinner. Only when Jesus took the bread and blessed it, did they finally recognize him. Then he vanished from their sight. (Luke 24:13-31)
My favorite story probably took place weeks later when the grief stricken disciples were hold up together alone with their collective sorrow and living in fear of persecution. Simon Peter can’t sleep and announces, “I’m going fishing.” Thomas, Nathaniel, and two others, also awake, quickly agree to go with him. At daybreak, after catching no fish, they see a stranger on the shore. “Children, you have no fish, have you?” “No,” they answer. He tells them to cast the net on the other side of the boat. When they do the net is so full of fish the the men can hardly haul it in. That is when they recognize the stranger as Jesus. “It is the Lord!” Once on shore, they find Jesus already cooking fish on a charcoal fire. (John 21:1-10)
I miss my friend, Mary, in the early mornings when I sit, candle lit, with a cup of coffee waiting for the sky to lighten. I remember her as I read the daily reflections in my little red book. I feel her presence with me as I say the prayer we often said together at the close of our phone calls.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference: Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time: Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace: Taking as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it: Trusting that you will make all things right if I surrender to your will: So that I may be reasonable happy in this life and supremely happy with you forever in the next. Amen (Reinhold Niebuhr)
The Rev. Patricia Stout is parish associate at First Presbyterian Church and a substitute teacher in the Delaware City School District.