Tomorrow is my final Sunday as a pastor in Kansas.
I thought my emotions would be more mixed than they are. I’m so relieved! I’m so relieved to be able to give up the burden of caring for these three congregations–the responsibility and the requirements. Now that I’m on the verge of being able to set it down, I realize just how heavy a load it’s been.
Certainly not without its joys and celebrations and benefits…but the burdensome aspects of what I have had to do here far outweigh the goodness of it. I will be glad to go. I will be sorry to leave some people behind–people who three years ago were strangers, but now have become members of the family we all make for ourselves. Some, I will not be sorry to leave behind at all. Likewise: some people are barely able to function when the thought of my leaving enters their head. Others are upset that I didn’t leave sooner. So, it’s a typical pastor/congregation relationship. Heh. Some people think that I am God’s gift to them, others think that the last three years were a waste of everyone’s time.
I was over at the church closest to us tonight, running off bulletins for the last time. I walked through the sanctuary, ran my fingers along the communion rail, smelled the paraments (in my head I always think that must be what ‘holy’ smells like), rested my forehead on the altar. I looked up at the huge stained-glass window above the altar (it depicts the resurrection scene with the women coming to the tomb and being told by the angel “He is not here, for he is risen, just as he said”) and had a final conversation with Mary Magdalene.
You see, it was Mary who told me to take this call. M and I were down here three years ago. It was HOT, and it was dusty, and the crops were drying up in the fields. We were wildly unimpressed with being assigned to Kansas, and even less impressed by the bishop who insisted that we serve here. We were angry that we’d been given rural congregations, since we’d already served rural congregations and knew it was not a good environment for us mentally and we’d made that point very clear to the churchly powers-that-be. We were feeling slightly threatened by the fact that we were informed rather icily that these five congregations were the only congregations available to us, that all other congregations were MUCH MORE (emphasis courtesy of the synodical thugs) rural. Basically: we had a couple of chips on our shoulders about the whole thing, and were basically coming down to Kansas to visit with the congregations so that we could turn the bishop down cold and say, “Nope. Not gonna work. Better let us go someplace else.”
Except that we liked it. It wasn’t great. But it wasn’t horrible either. So the night before we were to meet with reps from the congregations I was eventually called to, I prayed, “God, you have got to give me a sign. A big ass sign. Because I don’t want this. But if YOU want this for me, I’ll do it. But I have to know for sure for sure. You have to make it a sign that I will catch, without a shadow of a doubt, because if there’s any doubt at all, I’m telling the bishop to take these five congregations and go jump in a lake.”
When I walked into the sanctuary of this particular church, I stopped cold. There, glowing with sunlight, was a larger-than-life Mary Magdalene in the window above the altar. The Magdalene has always been dear to me. I think of her as a kindred spirit–an outspoken woman making her way in a man’s world, daring to do things that men didn’t think she could or should do–plus I love to imagine what the dynamic of the relationship between her and Jesus was. I don’t think they were lovers, or married. I don’t go that far. But I think they loved one another very much, and in the resurrection account in the Gospel of John, I love, love, love that Mary doesn’t realize the man she’s talking to is Jesus until he says her name. I wonder just what she heard in his voice that made her recognize him, finally, after speaking with him for several minutes. I want a Mary Magdalene medal, but they’re a bitch to find. Seeing as she’s the patron saint of prostitutes it’s not like you can just go into your local bible bookstore and pick one up. So I’ve never found one. But anyhow: I digress. Suffice it to say that when I asked for a “big-ass sign”, God provided one for me in the form of a stained-glass Magdalene.
She’s been a good friend to me, these three years. The night I found out I was pregnant with Linnea, I knelt at the altar rail, tears of thankfulness slipping down my cheeks and felt her there with me, rejoicing in my joy. When I couldn’t come up with a sermon idea, I’d sit in the sanctuary balcony, almost eye-to-eye with her and think, “What Would Mary Say?” Mary who loved Jesus. Who stayed to witness the crucifixion. Who was the first to know of the resurrection. And when I was feeling crushed beyond belief or bearing, I’d sit with my back against the railing and look up at her–her face turned toward the angel, a look of amazed hope on her face, and I’d remember that the resurrection was for me, too.
As I drove home, the sun was setting in a bank of clouds that looked like angel’s wings, and I felt the benediction of peace fill my soul. Do I know what I’ll do when we get to St. Paul? No. Do I know if I’ll have a church? No. Do I know if we’ll have health insurance? No. Do I know that we’ll be OK? Yes. Because Mary and the angels said so.