I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. 2 Timothy 4:7-8
Yesterday I attended the funeral of a beloved colleague and mentor. Rev. Anthony Farina attained almost 50 years of ministerial service within the Wisconsin Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. What a joy to see so many people face to face! Funerals have always been a time of reunion of sorts, but this was my first such service in Wisconsin since the Covid-19 precautions began. It was good to visit with other colleagues and acquaintances in the sanctuary of Salem UMC in Fond du lac as we waited for the service to begin. I reflected on the significance of relationship, the brevity of life and the legacy we leave behind.
During the pandemic, the emotional and spiritual well being of people has been significantly impacted by the enforced absence of in-person relationship. My heart goes out to all those who could not visit loved ones in the hospitals, retirement centers, nursing homes and more; even more heart wrenching are the people “shut-in” without human contact and touch. Times of illness and death have been made more torturous because of the inability to come together to grieve, celebrate a life and comfort one another. My heart welled up as I visited with retired colleagues and my contemporaries sharing stories of ministry, catching up on life and sharing laughs together. “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone” is a catchy song title that rings true. I have deeply missed the in-person connection of the clergy and congregations over the last 16 months. I sorely need relationship connections complete with handshakes and hugs.
As I said goodbye to Tony, I thought of many people I would like to connect with and say hello, give a hug, say thank you or even I am sorry. Life is short. We cannot change what we have done; and there comes a time when there is no time left to follow through on our many good intentions. I have thought of all the ways I have been “straining at the oars” of life trying to prove myself or succeed and I regret the sacrifices to relationship that I have made along the way. Like the theme of the song “Cat’s in the Cradle” I have too often been focused on “nose to the grindstone living.” A note to self and reminder to all, NOW is the time for investment in relationships. If we keep delaying, we cannot be sure that we will ever “get together then.”
Rev. Tony Farina’s son Stephen and brother David led the memorial service in a beautiful way. I was struck by how comforted I felt from the words of the liturgy and scripture. The banners in the church were good reminders that God’s gift to us is Eternal life which is always a present tense gift as we live by the Spirit. Truly the Spirit of God was at work in me in the service. I felt even more strongly the desire to keep running the race of faith regardless of how hard it can be! I am so glad that as long as we have breath it is not too late to grab hold of the grace and love that God extends to us. I do treasure this life that God has given to me. I want to grab hold and treasure the relationships of family, friends and even strangers that come my way. I do not think much about legacy, but by faith I trust that my life will continue to make a difference to others. I am so glad you are all with me on this journey of life! We need each other! God is at work in you! Life is short, let us make the most of it as we live and love as children of God.
Thank you, gracious God, for the people in whom we see your love reflected. Help us be instruments of your love, mercy, and peace. Through the risen Christ Jesus we pray. Amen.