‘A Time to Mend’ Chapter 26

Link back to Chapter 25

******

My father was the one who called me the following Friday to tell me that his cancer was spreading again. I could not remember the last time he had called me; phone calls from that house always came from my mother. So when our phone rang that evening as Emma and I were getting supper ready, I was astonished when I heard his voice: “Tom? It’s Dad”.

“Dad!” I exclaimed, and immediately Emma turned from the sink where she had been washing the lettuce. “Is that Grandpa?” she asked.

I mouthed the word “Yes” as he continued, “I wanted to let you know I saw the doctor this afternoon, and the cancer’s spreading again”.

I took a deep breath and said, “Well, you suspected as much, didn’t you?”

“I did. I must admit I’d been hoping for a different result, though”.

“I know”. Emma came over, and I held the phone between us so she could hear my father’s voice. “Em’s here too, Dad, and she’s listening in. So is there a plan yet?”

“I think we’re back to where we started from – regular chemotherapy and hope for the best”.

“What did the doctor actually say, Grandpa?” asked Emma.

“She said they’d discovered cancer in several new locations, in the lymph nodes and the bone marrow”.

“Are you okay?”

“I’m just tired, my dear. I was hoping for a different result, of course, but I think somehow I knew this time I wasn’t going to get it. And please don’t be unduly worried about me; no, it’s not good news, but I’m in no danger of dying in the immediate future”.

“Right”.

“Are you two still coming tomorrow?” 

“We’ll be there in time for lunch”, I replied, “and we’ll stay overnight. Is there anything we can bring for you?”

He laughed softly; “Well, if you think you can spring for a nice fifteen-year Glen Moray, I’ll be glad to pay you for it when you get here!”

It was my turn to laugh; “I’ll go to the off-licence in the morning and see what I can find!”

“Thank you”.

“Do Rick and Becca know, Dad?”

“I’m going to ring them next”.

“I’d better get off and let you do that, then”.

“Before you go – Emma, did you see Sarah today?”

“Yeah – I drove her to physio this morning, and I spent the afternoon with her”.

“How is she?”

“She’s still finding the physio hard, but she’s mostly okay”.

“Thank you for looking after her”.

“It’s no trouble – I enjoy being with her”.

“I’m sure it’s mutual. Well, I’ll see you both tomorrow”.

“Goodnight, Grandpa”, said Emma.

“Goodnight, Dad”, I added.

I put the phone down on the kitchen table, turned to face Emma and put both my arms around her. She laid her head against my chest; “You knew, didn’t you?” she whispered.

“I had a hunch”.

“Are you okay, Dad?”

I leaned back a little and looked down at her. “I’m okay”, I replied, kissing her gently on the forehead. “We knew this was coming”.

She shook her head as the tears brimmed in her eyes; “It doesn’t make it any easier, though”.

“I know”.

“It’s not fair”, she said desolately.

“No, it’s not”.

“First Mom, and now Grandpa…”

“Yeah”.

“I hate cancer”.

“Me too. But let’s not forget what he said – it’s not good news, but he doesn’t seem to be in any immediate danger”.

“Do you think the two-year prediction still holds?”

“Hard to say; if it does, we’ve still got eight months to go”.

We held each other in silence for a few minutes, neither of us feeling the need to speak. Eventually she kissed me on the cheek, stepped back and looked up at me. “I should call Lisa; I was talking to her yesterday and I told her I’d let her know as soon as we heard something”.

“Okay; do you want me to finish getting that salad ready while you’re talking to her?”

“Sure – thanks”.

“If you reach her at home, can you let me talk to Wendy when you’re done?”

“Okay”. She took her phone out of her pocket; “I’ll go up to my room to make the call”.

“Alright”.

******

I spent a few minutes putting the lettuce in a dish, chopping cucumber, tomatoes and celery, and adding some grated cheese and salad dressing. When I was done I put the bowl in the middle of the table and went back to the fridge for some cold meat slices.

I was just finishing up the supper preparations when Emma came downstairs again and handed me her phone; “It’s Wendy”.

“Thanks”. I took the phone from her and put it up to my ear; “Hi, Wendy”.

“Tom – are you okay?”

“I am. I was kind of expecting this”.

‘Is there anything I can do?”

“I think we’re okay. Mind you, I fully expect that in a few minutes I’m going to start getting calls from my sister and brother. I think Becca will probably end up coming over, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Rick and I spent some time tonight talking about stuff as well”.

“Did you ring Owen?”

“Not yet. That’s probably a good idea; I should do that before everyone else starts calling”.

“He’ll want to know what’s happening”.

“Yes”.

“Are you sure you’re okay? Do you want me to come over?”

“I would love to see you, but I think maybe tonight I need to keep the space open for Rick and Becca”.

“I understand. Can you make a tiny little space for Lisa for a minute?”

“Absolutely; what’s up?”

“She wants to ask you something”.

“Okay”.

I heard the phone changing hands, and then Lisa’s voice: “Tom, I’m really sorry”.

“Thanks”.

“How did he sound when you were talking to him?”

“Well, like he said, this wasn’t the news he was hoping for, but I think on the whole he was sounding okay; he’s not expecting a big change in the next few months other than the fact that he’ll be starting chemo again”.

“Can I go out to see him?”

“When were you thinking?”

“Some time this weekend; Mum might come too. You’re going to be there, right?”

“Yes – we’re going tomorrow morning”.

“Do you think it would be okay if we came?”

“I think it’d be fine, but you should call first; you’ve got their number, right?”

“Your mum gave it to me”.

“So give them a call in the morning. Dad’s a private sort of person; he tends not to react too well when people show up unexpectedly”.

“Good to know – thanks”.

“No worries. What about you – are you okay?”

“To be honest, I’m a bit weepy. I don’t know why – I just met him, but I – well, I liked meeting him and talking with him”.

“I know he felt the same”.

“I’m going to go now; can I ring you tomorrow?”

“Sure – you can ring me any time”.

“Okay – thanks. Here’s Mum”.

******

My father seemed subdued when we arrived at the house just before lunch the next day, but still he accepted Emma’s hug with a smile, and when he and I shook hands he held on for a little longer than usual. My mother had prepared a light lunch for us, and as we ate we talked about my father’s news even though, as he said, there really wasn’t much more to say about it.

“One thing your mother and I are both agreed on”, he said to me at one point, “is that you absolutely must not allow this to change your summer plans”.

“I don’t see how that’s going to work”, I replied; “I can hardly take off to Meadowvale for five weeks while you’re going through chemo”.

“I went through chemo for months last year and nothing dramatic happened. You two are not going to wait around here all summer on the remote chance that I might take a major turn for the worst. I won’t allow it, Tom”.

“You’ve got family back in Meadowvale”, my mother added softly, “and we know how much you both miss them – and how much they miss you. You need to go back for a few weeks and spend some time with them. We’ll be fine here – we’ve got Rick and Alyson and the children, and Becca. We’ll be all right”.

Emma nodded; “I must admit I’m really looking forward to Jenna’s grad – and to being close to Beth when she has her baby”.

“Of course you are, darling”, my mother replied, “not to mention spending time with your other grandparents and Jake and Jenna, and going to the mountains, and riding the horses at Hugo and Millie’s…”

“That’s Dan and Cara’s now”, I reminded her.

She shook her head with a smile; “I’ll never get used to that!”

“Me neither”.

******

After lunch my father surprised me again; as we were clearing the table he glanced at me and said, “After I have a little rest, would you like to go down to the Kingfisher for an hour?”

“Sure; I didn’t realize you knew the way!”

“I’ve been there occasionally”, he said with a smile. He put his hand on Emma’s arm; “Do you mind if I steal your dad for a bit?”

“Of course not; you guys should go and have a good time!”

“We girls will be glad to have the place to ourselves for a while”, my mother added.

******

The Kingfisher was the oldest of the four pubs in Northwood, and on fine summer afternoons and evenings its riverside terrace was a popular place for meals or drinks. I had worked behind the bar there for a few summers in my student years; it had been a favourite hangout for Owen and me when we were home from university, and on our visits to Northwood Kelly had quickly come to love it as well. The bar room was laid out in the traditional style, with a bare wooden floor, dark circular tables, a large fireplace, and a low, beamed ceiling. The background music was always quiet, and so far the landlord had resisted the idea of installing big screen televisions. 

It was a warm afternoon, and if I had been by myself I would have enjoyed the walk, but I knew my father would not be able to make it that far, so I drove him down to the Kingfisher in his car. I was quite warm enough in jeans and shirt, but he had put a cardigan on, and when we walked into the pub he was using his cane for support. There were two or three people seated at the bar, and a few others scattered around the tables, but it wasn’t hard for us to find a seat close to the empty fireplace. “You sit down, Dad”, I said; “I’ll buy”.

“Are you sure?” he replied, lowering himself carefully into an old wooden armchair.

“Absolutely; what would you like?”

“I think I’ll have whatever you’re having”.

“I usually have the local bitter”.

“Then I’ll have that too”.

“Okay; I’ll just be a minute”.

A few moments later I returned with our drinks. “Are you warm enough?” I asked as I sat down across from him and put the glasses on the table between us.

“I’m a bit chilly, but that’s just par for the course”. He picked up one of the pint glasses and raised it to me; “Cheers”.

“Cheers”, I replied, lifting my glass in return. We both sipped at our beer, and then I said, “I don’t remember if we’ve ever done this before”.

“I’m fairly sure we haven’t”. He frowned thoughtfully; “I was thinking the other day that it’ll be twenty years this summer since the first time you brought Kelly to meet us”.

“That’s right, isn’t it? This coming October would have been our twentieth anniversary. I guess that means Rick and Alyson will celebrate theirs on August 4th”.

He nodded. “I remember you and Kelly arriving a couple of days ahead of time, and then the next day we flew up to Edinburgh and had dinner with Alyson’s family”.

“That was quite the dinner”.

He smiled at me; “Kelly made a big impression that night, if I remember correctly”.

“To tell you the truth, we were both taken by surprise by the kind of wealth Alyson’s parents had; we weren’t expecting anything like that. Kelly was totally intimidated by it”.

“Really? I’m surprised to hear that; she certainly didn’t show it.”

“She had a bit of a meltdown before dinner, but Mum talked to her, and after that she was okay. I’d actually never seen her like that before; normally, you know, she just took everything in her stride”.

“Including a rather difficult future father-in-law”.

I shrugged and took a sip of my beer; “I think that night it was more to do with the obvious difference between her situation and Alyson’s. She told me she was really getting an eye-opener about how you and mum must see her; she felt like she wasn’t much of a catch for your oldest son, compared to all the Mackenzie wealth’”.

He looked down at the table; “In my case she was probably right, although now I’m ashamed to admit it. Of course your mum saw from the start what an outstanding person she was, but I was too taken up with other things. Alyson’s father tried to set me straight, you know”.

“I don’t think I knew that”.

“No, I’m sure I never told you. Do you remember at the dinner when he asked her about her family, and she spoke about her admiration for her grandparents and how they’d left Russia and started all over again in Canada? Douglas made a point of telling me afterwards how impressed he was with her, but I was too blind to see it”.

“What’s got you thinking about this, Dad?”

“I think about it all the time when I’m with Emma; I don’t think I’ve ever met a young person so thoughtful and kind and – well, so genuine. All I can think of is the outstanding job that you and Kelly did as her parents”. 

“Thanks”, I said quietly; “She’s kind of special, isn’t she?”

“She is. And I know she’s made enormous sacrifices to come and spend time with me – she’s left her friends and family, her home, her plans for going to university with her cousins – and she’s done it cheerfully and without complaint, at least as far as I can see”.

“Yes she has, although I’d be lying if I said she had no regrets”.

“Of course”. He looked at me for a moment, and then he said, “Do you know what I regret?”

“What’s that?”

“I regret that I’ll never be able to tell Kelly how highly I think of the daughter she raised”.

I stared at him for a moment, finding myself suddenly unable to speak. After a minute he said, “I’m sorry – I didn’t mean to upset you”.

I shook my head; “No need to apologize; I just didn’t think I’d ever hear you say anything like that”.

“I should have said it a long time ago”. He took a sip of his drink and then put it down on the table again, his eyes far away. “I was very rude to Kelly during that first visit. She came to me in the living room one night and asked me if I was going to be coming to your wedding. I can’t remember exactly what I said to her, but it was words to the effect that I thought you’d made a mistake in moving to Meadowvale, and I’d always hoped you would come to your senses and come back to England, and I wasn’t happy about the fact that you were marrying into the community and strengthening your ties there”.

He shook his head slowly and looked at me. “I really don’t know what I was trying to accomplish. I know what I did, though; I made it much harder for her to have any sort of positive relationship with me. I expect she told you about that?”

“Yes”.

“Was she very upset?”

“Yes she was”.

“I expect you were angry, too”.

“Yes, but she talked me down”.

“Did she?” He shook his head again; “I shouldn’t really be surprised, should I?”

“She was always trying to bring people together; that was one of the major values of her life”.

“That would have come from her faith background, I suppose?”

“Yes, although it wasn’t just her upbringing; she and I read the gospels together a lot, and she really took those teachings to heart”.

“I remember you mentioning making choices about the sort of life you wanted to live”.

“Yeah”. I frowned; “She got on my case sometimes, you know, and I’ll tell you this: it really bothered her that you and I were estranged from each other. Almost to her dying day, she was encouraging me to do what I could to mend our relationship. To be honest with you, it’s something I’ve felt guilty about since she died – the fact that she never lived to see it fixed”.

He shook his head. “You can’t take the entire responsibility for that”.

“I know, but there are always two sides to a story”.

We were quiet for a few moments; he was staring off into space, his mind obviously far away, his glass of beer forgotten for the moment. The bar was filling up now; an older couple who I recognized from the village church came wandering in as we were sitting there, nodding a greeting to people they knew, and on the other side of the fireplace from us a group of four or five young adults were talking and laughing together.

Eventually my father spoke again. “I’m sorry, Tom”, he said softly.

“It’s okay, Dad”.

He shook his head, his eyes still far away; “No, it’s not. It’s one gigantic missed opportunity, something I could have made right years ago but chose not to, because I was so stubborn”. He looked up, and his eyes met mine. “You chose well”, he said; “You chose a wonderful girl, and you had a very happy life with her. And she did you a lot of good; I can see that now. You’ve grown up, and you’ve moved ahead, and you’ve become very sure of yourself and who you are, and at the same time you’ve learned a genuine concern for others. All I have to do is look at the way you and Emma have stepped up and done all you could to help since Rick and Sarah had their accident. No one could ever have expected the two of you to do as much as you have, but you’ve done it gladly and without complaint”.

“It’s not a big deal, Dad; they’re family, and that’s what family does”.

“Especially the Reimer family, I think”.

“Well, yes, they do tend to be good at that kind of thing”.

“I know that now. And to get back to what I was saying – I am really sorry, Tom. I know my refusal to be part of your life over the years must have been very hurtful to you and Kelly, and I see now that I’m the one who lost out the most from it. And there’s something else I want you to know”.

“What’s that?”

“I liked her. I tried to hide the fact, because I was so stubborn about my disapproval of you, but I want you to know that I liked her very much, despite myself. She was so positive and friendly and outgoing, and so determined to see the best in people”. He shook his head, looking away again. “I wish I could have summoned up the decency to tell her that before she died”.

Once again I found myself staring at him, unable to speak. He shook his head; “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring you out here this afternoon to upset you”.

“I’m not upset”.

“You must miss Kelly a great deal”, he said quietly.

“Every day”.

“Emma and I talk about her sometimes; perhaps she’s told you about that?”

“Actually, Emma doesn’t usually fill me in on private conversations she has with other people”.

“No, of course not. Well, a couple of weeks ago when she was here we got into a conversation about her mother. She told me that she still finds it very difficult”.

“I know she does”. I sighed; “Like me, she’s learned to live with it, but that doesn’t mean the pain goes away”.

“No”. He hesitated, and then said, “And what about Wendy and Lisa and Colin? I know you’ve told me that you and Wendy aren’t dating, but it must seem almost as if you’ve found another family”.

“Yeah, in some ways it does”.

“Do you think Lisa will ever come to see you as her father?”

“I think she will in time, but I’m not trying to rush her. She’ll get there on her own eventually”.

“My newly patient son”.

I shrugged; “Sometimes that’s the best way”.

“I’m sure. And you and Wendy are still just good friends?”

“Yes. We’re both happy with that. I like her a lot and we get on well with each other, but we’re not looking for anything more than friendship”.

“Well, a good friend is a great gift”.

I nodded; “I can certainly agree with that one”.

“Lisa rang me this morning, you know”.

“I thought she might do that; we were talking last night”.

“She told me that. I think she might come over tomorrow, with her mum and her brother”.

“I think there might be a few people here tomorrow”.

“That’s what I understand”.

******

On Sunday morning Emma and I went to the parish church for the nine o’clock service. When we got back to my parents’ place we worked with my mother to prepare Sunday dinner; Becca and Mike arrived at about eleven-thirty, and Rick and his family soon afterwards. Wendy and her children arrived just before dinner; it was the first time Wendy had met my brother and his family, and as she and Rick shook hands he smiled and said “I’ve heard a lot about you”.

“Likewise; how’s your leg?”

He shrugged; “Mostly all right. It gives me a bit of pain every now and again, but it’s fairly minor compared to what my daughter’s still dealing with”.

Emma introduced Lisa to Sarah; I could tell immediately that Sarah was a little intimidated by this sophisticated looking cousin who she was meeting for the first time. “It is true you speak Russian and German?” she asked.

“Da, eto pravda”, Lisa replied with a smile.

“What does that mean?”

“It’s Russian for ‘Yes, it’s true’. And is it true your left leg is made of steel?”

Sarah laughed; “Titanium, actually – there’s an intramedullary nail in there”.

Lisa gave her a mock frown; “What language is that?”

“I know – I’ve had to learn lots of weird words and phrases over the past few months! I don’t know why they call it a ‘nail’ – it’s actually a titanium rod”.

“Is it attached to your bone?”

“It’s in the marrow canal of my femur; they put it in there because the bone fractures were so complicated”.

Lisa shuddered; “That sounds horrible; does it hurt?”

“It still aches quite a bit, but that’s not especially the rod; it takes a long time for a leg to fully recover from that kind of injury”.

“Emma says you’re still having physiotherapy?”

“I go almost every day; I’ll be doing that for a while yet”.

My mother served us all coffee; Lisa sat down beside my father, and I heard her speaking to him quietly. “How are you feeling, Mr. Masefield?”

“Oh, not too bad. I’m not in a lot of pain, my dear; it’s mainly that I’m tired a lot”. He frowned; “You know, there’s been something I’ve been meaning to ask you”.

“What is it?” she said, accepting a cup of coffee from Becca with a smile.

“Well, I understand that you and Tom need to take your time to work out what sort of relationship you’re going to have, and I know it’s complicated. But the thing is, time is one thing I don’t have an unlimited supply of, you see? So, could I possibly persuade you to call me ‘Grandpa’ instead of ‘Mr. Masefield’?”

She gave him a slow smile; “I could do that”, she replied.

******

While we were clearing up from dinner my mother looked around the room with a smile and said “I should have arranged for a photographer, shouldn’t I?”

“My mother”, Rick said with a grin; “Always wanting to record things for posterity!”

“But this is a special occasion!” she replied. “This is the first time we’ve had Becca and Mike, and Tom’s extended family…”

Colin laughed; “I suppose we are a sort of extended family, aren’t we? I think I’m probably at the far end of the extension!”

My mother coloured slightly. “I’m sorry if I said the wrong thing; I didn’t mean…”

Wendy shook her head; “Don’t worry about it, Mrs. Masefield”. She glanced at me; “It’s a bit untidy, but ‘extended family’ isn’t a bad way of describing it”.

Emma was sitting beside Wendy; she smiled at her and said, “Lisa’s my sister and you’re her mom, and you’re Colin’s mom too – sure feels like a family to me!”

Rick grinned at Lisa; “So what’s it like to discover a sister you never knew you had?”

She shrugged; “A bit weird at first! But it didn’t take long for me to get used to it, especially as she’s such a great person”. She frowned thoughtfully; “I must admit – I had wondered sometimes what it would be like to have a sister”.

“Me too”, said Emma. “Jake and Jenna often feel like my brother and sister, but this is different somehow”.

Lisa nodded; “Yeah, it really is. We’re still working it out, of course”.

Rick looked across the table at Wendy and me. “And what about you two; are you still working it out?”

Wendy glanced quickly at me; “Tom and I are just friends, Rick”, she said.

“Very happy to be friends, though”, I added.

“Yes, we are”, she agreed.

******

After dinner Colin and I walked together through the orchard to the lake. It was a warm afternoon and we were both in tee-shirts and sandals.

“When are you going to Canada?” he asked me.

“We haven’t booked the tickets yet, but it’ll probably be a day or two after school finishes. Emma’s going earlier; her cousin Jenna graduates at the end of June and she wants to be there”.

“She told me she wants to stay ’til the end of August”.

“She told you about Beth’s baby being due in the middle of the month?”

“Yes”.

“What about you?”

He shrugged. “Mum and I usually go to Wales for a couple of weeks; she likes to rent a place by the sea”.

“Anywhere in particular?”

“Usually on the south coast – somewhere we can swim, and lie on the beach”.

“If it doesn’t rain?”

He laughed; “Yeah – it does a lot of that too!”

“You’re still planning on vocational college in September?”

“Yes – I’ve applied at four different colleges”.

“You told me about Oxford and Cherwell”.

“That’s the one Mum wants me to go to”.

“She’d like to have you close at hand, I guess”.

“I know. There’s one in London, but I think she’d rather I didn’t go there”.

“Because it’s close to your dad?”

“Yeah. I don’t mind, though – he’s out of the country so much. But I don’t know if I really want that one anyway. There’s a good one in Southend that I like; they offer a basic carpentry and joinery diploma. I’d start out already knowing quite a lot of what they teach, but it’s always good to have a paper qualification, isn’t it?”

“I think so. Hopefully you wouldn’t get too bored”.

He shook his head; “I never get bored when I’m working with wood”.

“You’re a talented carpenter, Colin”.

He smiled awkwardly; “Thanks”.

We were quiet for a moment as we made our way up through the apple trees and came out into the clearing beside the lake. There was a slight breeze rippling the surface of the water, and on the far side a couple of mallards were floating lazily among the reeds.

“Dad emailed me last week to ask me about college”, he said.

“Oh yeah?”

He shook his head; “I wish he would just leave me alone”.

“You don’t enjoy hearing from him?”

He shook his head; “It just brings it all back”.

“Do you want to walk around the lake?”

“Okay”.

We followed the footpath around to the bench on the far side; we took our seats, and after a moment he said, “Were you close to your grandparents?”

I nodded slowly; “I was close to my mum’s parents. My dad’s – not so much. They lived in Oxford, but they weren’t really part of our lives. Grandpa Masefield worked long hours – he was one of the founding partners of what became Masefield and Marlowe, and it was very important to him”.

“What was his name?”

“Robert – Robert Masefield. My grandma’s name was Penny”.

“When did they die?”

“They actually died within six months of each other, in 1986; I was living in Canada by then, and I didn’t come home for their funerals. The last time I saw them was in the summer of 1984, a couple of months before Kelly and I got married”.

“You came back to visit?”

“Yes – it was my first time back after my move”.

“What about your mum’s parents? You said you were close to them?”

“They were really involved in our lives. My mum’s maiden name was Campion; her dad was a university organ scholar and teacher, as well as being organist and choirmaster at St. Giles’ Church. He died in 1981, the year before I went to Canada, but my Grandma Campion didn’t die until 1989”.

“I’m a bit like you, I suppose. We’ve been really close to my mum’s parents, but not my dad’s”.

“What are they like?”

“They live in this big country house just outside of Halstead; Mum told me they bought it when my dad was about ten or twelve. Grandpa had been a businessman and he made a lot of money; Mum says he wanted to move out to the country and live like the lord of the manor or something like that. All that stuff’s really important to him”.

“Your dad never told me anything about his parents”.

“I don’t think he and grandpa are very close. Well  they wouldn’t be, would they? Grandpa’s always wearing suits and ties and he likes being respectable”.

“Not like your dad”.

“No – dad likes motor bikes and leather jackets and flying to war zones and all that”.

“Why did you ask me about my grandparents?”

He thought for a moment, and then said, “I’ve been thinking that I’m the only grandchild my Kingsley grandparents have. Dad has one sister, Auntie Donna, but she’s never had any children. And Lisa hates Dad so much, and when she found out he wasn’t her real dad, she sort of cut herself off from the Kingsleys altogether”.

“What about you?”

He shrugged; “I haven’t thought about it much. When I was little I didn’t really like going to visit them, and I still find it a bit uncomfortable, but I sometimes feel sorry for them too. They’re getting older now – I think they’re in their mid-seventies – and Grandpa’s not been well. They seem a bit lonely to me”.

“It’s good that you care. It must be more than a little complicated for you”.

“Yeah. I really don’t want to have anything to do with my dad, but I don’t feel like cutting my grandparents off. Sometimes I try talking to Lisa about it, but she’s so angry at Dad, and she gets emotional really quickly, so I usually avoid the subject altogether”.

“Do you talk to your mum about it?”

“Sometimes. She’s pretty good about it, actually”.

“What’s got you thinking about them this afternoon?”

“Just what your mum was saying earlier on about us being like your extended family. I feel like we’re making all these new connections, and mostly I like it, but it’s a bit weird trying to put it all together”.

“How the new family fits in with the old one, you mean?”

“Yeah. And even how I fit in with it”.

“How do you mean?”

“Well, I know Lisa doesn’t call you ‘Dad’, but you are her dad. And you and mum were once – well, you know what I mean?”

“Lovers, for a very short time”.

He gave me an awkward glance; “I wasn’t sure what word you’d want me to use”.

“‘Lovers’ will do fine”.

“But now you’re not really together, and you and I aren’t related at all”.

“So what you’re saying is, if your mum and I were a couple again – if we got married, let’s say – then I’d be your stepfather, and you’d have some sense of how we were connected. But it’s not like that – it’s all a bit loose and undefined – and you’re wondering where we go from here, you and me”.

He shrugged again; “I suppose I am, really”.

“Where would you like us to go?”

“Well, I like you and Emma”.

“Thanks – we like you, too”.

“Lisa’s not really into sports and outdoor things”.

“But you are”.

“Yeah”.

“Emma and I aren’t really into competitive sports like you – she’s never been on a sports team, for instance”.

“No, but she likes canoeing and camping and horseback riding, and climbing and hiking and that sort of thing”.

“What about you?”

“I wouldn’t mind being involved in that sometimes; I haven’t done much of it, but it sounds like fun”.

“We haven’t had much time for it either, not since we came back to Oxford. We’ve been kind of occupied with my dad and the rest of my family. We did some canoeing last summer and fall, though, and when we’re in Canada this summer we’ll probably do some more. And we’ll be hiking in the mountains, too, I imagine”.

“Well, if you do stuff like that here, would you mind if I came along sometimes?”

“Of course not”.

“Thanks”.

“No problem”. I glanced at my watch; “Well, Emma and I need to be going soon…”

“Right – I think Mum wants to get back to town, too”.

“Shall we head back to the house, then?”

“Okay”

******

Link to Chapter 27

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‘A Time to Mend’ Chapter 25

Link back to Chapter 24

******

I was just finishing off my schoolwork the following evening when the phone rang at my elbow. I picked it up absent-mindedly as I closed the document on my computer screen. “Tom and Emma’s”.

“Hi, it’s me”.

“Joe Reimer – how are you doing?”

“Pretty well. We went over to Mom and Dad’s for lunch after church; just got home”.

I glanced at my watch; “Just after two o’clock there, right?”

“Yeah”.

“How are your mum and dad?”

“They’re fine; both a little stiff these days, but that’s to be expected”.

“And how was church?”

“Good. Ron started a sermon series on 1 Peter last week, so we got the second half of chapter one today – holiness and love, and letting the one inform the other. It was very good”.

“Was my old band playing the music?”

“They sure were, and Beth played along with them too. She was up for a visit, so she came to church with Aunt Rachel”.

“How did she look?”

“Like a woman who’s five months pregnant and happy about it. You guys still keep in touch, right?”

“We email each other once a week or so. Emma talks to her a lot”.

“And how is my goddaughter? Still caring for the whole world?”

“She’s slowed down a little. She went out with her friend Alanna this afternoon for a while”.

“Alanna from church?”

“Yes. There was a Sunday afternoon piano recital somewhere down in the city – St. Mary the Virgin, I think. Alanna’s into that kind of thing, being a classical musician herself, and Emma’s discovered she likes it too. Between her grandma and her sister and Alanna, I think she’s becoming quite a classical music fan”.

“Nothing wrong with that”.

“I agree”.

“And what about you, Tom Masefield? How are you doing?

“Not bad. ‘Lincoln Green’ had a good time at Mum and Dad’s on Saturday. It turned out to be a bigger group than we’d expected – Owen brought his whole family, and both of Wendy’s kids came too”.

“Emma probably enjoyed spending time with Andrew and Katie”.

“She really did; they haven’t had much time with each other since we got here”. I hesitated, and then said “At one point when Emma and Katie were sitting together I had this really vivid flashback to 1994”.

“That would be when you guys were over there for Christmas?”

“Yeah. The day after Christmas we went to Owen and Lorraine’s for lunch. We were sitting around the lunch table; Katie would have been about four months old. Kelly and Emma were sitting beside each other, and Emma was holding Katie and rocking her. I remember Becca smiled and said, ‘A babysitter is born’”. I shook my head; “I could see it so vividly, Joe – Emma rocking Katie, with Kelly sitting beside her”.

He was quiet for a moment, and then he spoke softly; “It’s that time of year again, isn’t it?”

“Yes”.

“Are you okay?”

“I’m struggling a bit, but I’ll get through it”.

“Three years is not really a very long time, is it?”

“No, it’s not”, I replied quietly. “How are you doing?”

“I miss my sister, but that’s a given. I miss her husband too; are you guys still planning on coming over in the summer?”

“Emma is for sure. I’m hoping to; Dad’s got his next scan May 5th, so we’ll see what that turns up”.

“I understand”.

“Of course, I won’t be able to come until after school gets out here in the third week of July, so I’ll have to miss Jenna’s grad. Em’s planning on being there for it though, and she’s hoping to stay until after Beth has the baby”.

“That’ll be a nice long visit”.

“That’s what she wants. How are the preparations for the grad coming? Did Jenna buy her dress yet?”

“No; she’s kind of tied up with studying for her finals right now”.

“I guess so. She doesn’t have anything to worry about, though – right?”

“I think she’ll do fine. Getting back to you for a minute – are you and Owen and Wendy going to go anywhere with this ‘Lincoln Green’ stuff?”

“Well, Owen has a band, you know”.

“He’s a gregarious sort of guy; maybe he wouldn’t mind being in two bands?”

“You may be right there, although he does like spending time at home with his kids, too”.

“I know what you mean. I was just thinking of your history; I know how much you enjoyed being in a band with Ellie and Darren, even though you had to drive down to Saskatoon to do open stages and gigs. Now you’re in Oxford and you’re really close to the local music scene. And there are people there who remember when ‘Lincoln Green’ was a thing”.

“That’s true”.

“And you loved performing together with Owen and Wendy in the old days; it’s one of the things you always spoke positively about”.

“We can’t turn the clock back, though, Joe”.

“You don’t have to. You’ve all grown; you’re probably better musicians now than you were then, so you’d be an even better band”.

“That’s what Wendy said to Emma last night”.

“Well then…?”

“Why are you pushing on this, Joe?”

“I don’t mean to be pushy. I know you’re going to be sad at this time of year, and a lot of that is outside your control. But I also know that Kelly wouldn’t want you not to take opportunities to be with friends and to do things you enjoy. She went through her own dark times, but in the end she discovered there was something she could do about them”.

I was quiet for a moment, and then I said, “You’re right about that”.

“You’re carrying a lot on your shoulders right now”, he said quietly; “Don’t feel guilty about having some fun from time to time”.

******

Lisa called me on my cell phone the following evening. “Are you and Emma interested in coming to the Radcliffe Singers’ spring concert?” she asked.

“This is the Brahms program?”

“Yes”.

“What’s the date?”

“May 19th”.

“I think that works. I’ll check with Emma – I’m pretty sure she’ll want to come if she’s free”.

“Do you think your dad would be interested?”

“I think he’d be delighted, but it would depend on how he’s feeling at the time”.

“I understand. Is he alright today?”

“I talked to them yesterday; he told me he’s been feeling very tired, and that worries me a bit”.

“Is that a possible symptom?”

“Yes, and the fact that he’s noticed it – and was willing to tell me he’d noticed it – that’s significant to me”.

“When’s his scan?”

“May 5th”.

“You’ll let me know when you hear?”

“Of course”.

“How about you – are you alright?”

“I’m doing a little better, thanks. I had a good talk with my brother in law last night – Kelly’s brother Joe. That always helps”.

“Are you close?”

“Yeah – he’s probably my best friend from my Meadowvale days”. I was quiet for a moment, and then I said, “Mark’s trial’s still on April 30th?”

“Yes – that’s the other thing I wanted to talk to you about. The crown prosecutor’s office called me today; apparently Mark’s going to enter a guilty plea”.

“Assault causing bodily harm?”

“Yes. They told me that with it being his first offence and him pleading guilty, the most likely sentence would be a fine and a community service order”.

“Are you okay with that?”

“I think so. I don’t particularly want my pound of flesh, Tom”.

“No, I understand”.

“I’m not in a rush to talk to him again, though. I’m not especially angry, but I’m still scared”.

“Understood”.

“Well, I’d better go”.

“Are you calling from home?”

“Yes”.

“Is your mum there?”

“Yes she is – would you like to talk to her?”

“Just briefly, if that’s okay?”

“Of course; hold on a minute”. I heard her calling for her mother, and a moment later the phone changed hands and I heard Wendy’s voice; “Hi Tom”.

“How are you doing, Wendy?”

“Oh, gradually getting myself ready for the start of Trinity Term”.

“That’s next week, isn’t it?”

“Yes. Not that I’m overly busy with it; I’ve done this a few times now. I’ve got some preparation to do, but it’s manageable”.

“Would you like to take a break from your prep on Friday night?”

“Are you thinking of going to the Plough for the open stage?”

“I am, actually. Are you interested?”

“Is Owen going too?”

“He’s my next call”.

“Either way, I’m definitely interested. I was thinking about this yesterday”.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yes. It felt really good to be singing with you boys again on Sunday. I’ve really missed it – I didn’t realize how much I’d missed it – and if you want to get ‘Lincoln Green’ going again, I’m definitely on board”.

“I’m not sure about ‘Lincoln Green’ yet. Owen’s got a band of his own”.

“I understand, and I also know you’re quite busy with your dad’s illness and Sarah and Rick and all that. I’m not trying to push you further than you want to go; I just wanted to let you know that whatever you’re interested in doing musically, I’d like to be part of it”.

“Wow – I’m not sure I expected this level of enthusiasm!”

“I know – I’ve been dragging my feet, and I’m sorry. I’ve been nervous – fearful, even – but I gave myself a good talking-to yesterday, and I’m not going to let nervousness hold me back from something that could be really good”.

“Well – that’s great, Wendy!”

“Have you got some specific songs in mind for Friday night?”

“Why don’t you pick three that you’re comfortable with? I’m sure Owen would be okay with that”.

“I could do that. But I also want to learn some of the new ones you’ve been singing; I don’t want us to be all about the old days”.

“I agree with that – and if there are any you’d like us to learn, too…”

“That sounds great, Tom”.

“Okay, I’ll call Owen and then I’ll get back to you”.

******

Wendy and I decided to go early to the Plough and Lantern on Friday night, so that we could have a visit together. I asked Emma if she would mind eating alone that night, and she smiled at me; “Are you and Wendy going on a date?” she asked.

“Are we going to go down that road again?” I replied irritably.

She shook her head, her face suddenly stricken. “Sorry, Dad – I didn’t mean to…”

I stepped forward quickly and kissed her on the forehead. “No – I’m the one who should be apologizing; I shouldn’t have snapped at you like that. I’m sorry”.

We put our arms around each other and held each other for a moment. “I like Wendy a lot”, I said softly, “but we’re just friends”.

“I know; I don’t know why I said that…”

I stepped back and looked down at her; “I don’t want you to feel like you have to second-guess yourself every time you feel like saying something. We went down that road once before, remember?”

She nodded, her eyes on mine. “After Mom died, when I was afraid to talk about her around you for fear of hurting you”.

“It’s always better when we’re honest with each other, isn’t it?”

“Yeah. But I didn’t really mean anything this time, Dad – I was only teasing you. I just wasn’t very sensitive about it”.

“It’s my problem, not yours, Em. I really don’t mind when you tease me – I’ve always enjoyed it, actually”.

“You didn’t seem like you were enjoying it just now”.

“No – sorry. I’ll try not to be so touchy about that”.

******

Wendy picked me up Friday night at around 6.00 p.m. As I was putting my spring jacket on Emma said, “Would you mind some company a little later on?”

“Were you thinking of dropping by the open stage?”

“It starts at eight, right?”

“More or less”.

“Do you know when you’ll be playing?”

“Not really”.

“Okay, well – you might see me in a couple of hours”.

Wendy smiled; “That would be great, Em – it’ll be nice to see a friendly face!”

“I think there might be a few of those!” I replied.

Bill Prentiss was the same genial host as ever as Wendy and I walked into the pub just after 6.15. His thick beard was now totally white and he had a substantial paunch, but he still had the familiar mischievous twinkle in his eye as he came out from behind the bar and took Wendy’s hand; “Wendy Howard!” he exclaimed; “I would have recognised you anywhere; you haven’t changed a bit!”

“You’re very kind, Bill”, she replied, “but you’re obviously losing your eyesight with your advancing years!”

We all laughed, and Bill said, “Are you two going to sing together tonight?”

“Actually, Owen’s coming too”, I replied.

He raised an eyebrow; “Is this a ‘Lincoln Green’ reunion?”

“Something like that. The three of us have played together a couple of times and we decided it was time to go public”.

“Excellent! What time would you like to go on? The list is wide open right now”.

I glanced at Wendy, and she shrugged and said, “Maybe around nine? That way I can take in some of the other performances while I get my courage up”.

Bill laughed; “I’m sure you’ll be very good – you always were. Tom was telling me the other week that you’re a professor now?”

“No, not a full professor – I’m only a lowly college tutor”.

“Ah well – all in good time. And you’ve had some books published, too?”

“Yes – I’ve been very lucky that way”.

“Excellent! Well, I shouldn’t interrupt your supper together – pick yourself any table you like, and I’ll bring you a menu in a minute. Would either of you like something from the bar to start off with?”

“Pint of bitter for me, please”, I replied.

“Wendy?”

“Cider, if you have it on draught”.

“We certainly do – is Magners all right?”

“That’ll be lovely, thank you”.

The pub was about half full; we made our way over to a table in the corner by the fireplace and took our seats across from each other. She looked around at the familiar wood-beamed ceiling, the old prints on the walls, the polished black tables and traditional chairs; “This place hasn’t changed a bit, has it?”

“That’s one of the many reasons I like it”.

“Me too”.

We both ordered fish and chips – “I’ll probably regret it tomorrow morning, but I always enjoy it!” she said with a grin – and it was while we were eating and comparing notes about our respective weeks that the topic of Mickey Kingsley came up.

“Mickey’s back in England”, she said softly.

I took a sip of my beer, set the glass down again on the table, and looked at her. “I guess this is about the right time, isn’t it? About two months, he told Rees back in February”.

“Yes”.

I searched her eyes for a moment. “Are you okay?”

She shrugged. “He talked to Rees last night; he was asking about Colin. Then today Colin got an email from him”.

“Anything to worry about?”

“Any contact between Colin and Mickey is worrying to me, Tom”.

I nodded; “I understand. I know Colin really doesn’t like hearing from him”.

“Does Colin talk to you about him?”

I opened my mouth, then closed it again and frowned. “What’s the matter?” she asked.

“Confidentiality”.

“Right – sorry, I shouldn’t have asked”.

“No, I get it. I think I can tell you that Colin does talk to me about his dad, but that’s really as far as I can go”.

She nodded slowly. “I’m glad, Tom. He’s told me before that you’ve had some good conversations, but he’s never gone into detail about them”.

“Is Mickey really all that interested in Lisa and Colin? I was under the impression that he wasn’t – until that night he called me and started talking about Colin and warning me not to forget that he was Colin’s dad. I still can’t get my head around the idea that he might feel threatened by a schoolteacher having a good relationship with his son”.

“I’ve long since given up trying to understand the tortured psyche of my ex-husband”.

“Do you think he might try to get in touch with you directly again?”

“I think Rees put the fear of God into him last time he did that”. She frowned; “I wouldn’t be surprised if he contacted you again, though – you’re not covered by the court order, and you might be as close as he can get to me”.

“Surely he’s not under the impression that you and I are dating?”

“I find it hard to believe he would be, but after what he said to you on the phone…”

“Yeah – that was very weird”.

“Mickey’s very possessive. Even though we’re divorced, I’m sure he’d take it as a personal slight if I started dating someone. Not that you and I are dating, of course”, she added quickly, “but you know what I mean”.

I shook my head slowly. “I don’t know how you live with this, Wendy”.

She sighed. “Most of the time, I try not to think about it. I pray a lot; the psalms are especially helpful”.

“ ‘Break the teeth of the wicked, O God’?”

She laughed; “That one too!”

I hesitated, and then said, “Back in February when we stayed at Rees and Megan’s – did you have a nightmare that night?”

She inclined her head a little. “I think I might have done. Did I wake you? I’m sorry”.

“Don’t worry about it”. 

“Every now and again I still get a bad one. It doesn’t happen as often as it used to”.

“It sounded like a pretty terrifying experience”.

She nodded. “It’s usually the same nightmare. And you know how it is in a dream, when you’re trying to say something but you can’t, because it’s a dream, and then when you finally manage to say something, that’s what wakes you up, because you’re actually talking out loud?”

“I know”.

She looked away for a moment, and when she looked back at me again I saw that her eyes were troubled. “Tom, do you mind me asking what you heard?”

“At first you were just whimpering – I’d guess for maybe a minute or two. That’s what woke me up. Then I started to hear words: ‘No – please, no’, and later on, ‘No – please stop’. And then I heard you get up and go downstairs”.

 She looked at me steadily for a moment and then gave a heavy sigh. “Well, you’ve had a glimpse of me at my most vulnerable. I must admit I feel a bit awkward about that”.

I shook my head slowly. “No need; I don’t think any the less of you for it. Actually, I admire you more for the way you’ve refused to let yourself be defined by the crap you’ve been through”.

“Thank you. Most of the time, I think I’m succeeding”.

We ate in silence for a couple of minutes while the buzz of pub conversation went on around us. Eventually she looked up at me and said, “Can I ask you something about Kelly?”

“Of course you can”.

“Did she know about me?”

“Yes”.

“Did she know everything?”

“Everything that I knew at the time”.

“Of course – but she knew you and I had slept together?”

“She got that one out of me pretty early in our relationship, actually”.

She raised an eyebrow; “How did it come up, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“No, I don’t mind. I told her about ‘Lincoln Green’ almost immediately. The first time she came over to my house she noticed a picture of the three of us up on the wall. She asked me who the people in the photograph were, so I told her. And being Kelly, she was pretty up front, so she commented that you were ‘a real beauty’ and asked me ‘anything going on there?’”

She laughed softly; “‘Up front’ is right! What did you say?”

“I can’t remember exactly; something about us just being friends, I imagine. It was a few months ’til I told her the full story”.

“How did that happen?”

“Kelly and I wrote to each other constantly from the time we met at Thanksgiving until she moved back to Meadowvale a year later. She came home for a week after Christmas and we spent a lot of time together, and that’s when she invited me to go up to Jasper for a visit at Easter. So I did; I spent four days with her, and that’s when we both realized we were falling in love with each other, although we didn’t say anything about it at the time”.

“When you say ‘I spent four days with her’…?”

“No – we weren’t sleeping together. I remember wondering about that when she gave me the invitation, but she clarified it right away – she said ‘I have a spare bedroom’”.

“Right”.

“Anyway, I played her some traditional folk songs while I was up there, and one of them was ‘The Recruited Collier’. I told her you’d been the one who taught it to Owen and me, and we talked about you a little more.

“But it was a couple of weeks later that she got the full story. A week after I got back to Meadowvale her cousin Corey was killed in a car accident; he was Joe’s best friend and he and Kelly were pretty close too. She came back to Meadowvale right away and stayed until after the funeral, and that’s when we told each other how we were feeling. And it wasn’t long after that that we had what she called ‘the sex talk’”.

“The sex talk?”

“Yeah. She said she wanted to be clear about what the boundaries were going to be, and one of the first things she asked me was if I had ever had sex with anyone. I said I had – just once – and she asked me ‘Was it Wendy Howard?’ and I said, ‘Yes’, and then she asked me to tell her the whole story, so I did”.

“She came right out and asked you?”

“She did”.

She smiled and shook her head; “You and Kelly were really an attraction of opposites, weren’t you?”

“That was a challenge for us in the early days, but we learned to make allowances for each other. And then after she had her first experience with cancer and chemo, her personality changed; she was still an extrovert, but she wasn’t quite such a social gadfly as she’d been when I first met her. For a few years she kind of withdrew into a smaller circle of people she really cared about. Eventually she came out of it, but she was never quite so extreme as she’d been when we first met”.

“It’s a mystery to me that you weren’t put off right at the start by her extroversion”.

“To be honest, I found it refreshing. At home I’d been so used to unspoken grudges and hidden agendas, but with Kelly I knew where I was from day one. What you saw was what you got. And also, she had the talent for happiness in a big way. She was warm and positive and utterly genuine, and she was one of the bravest and truest people I ever met in my life”. I shook my head; “No – she was the bravest and truest person I ever met in my life”.

Wendy looked at me in silence for a moment, and then she reached out and put her hand on mine. “Sorry – I keep doing this. I know you’re struggling with this time of year, and I’m not helping”.

I shook my head. “No – no need to apologize. As I keep saying to people, I don’t mind talking about her. Most of the time, I find it helps”.

“Right”. She grinned; “I bet she never started a sentence to you with the words ‘Do you mind me asking…?’”

“Very rarely! And when I used it, she’d say something like, ‘Earth to Major Tom – this is your fiancée here, the up-front Kelly Reimer!”

We both laughed, and then she squeezed my hand; “I envy you”, she said softly.

“I know – I’m really sorry things didn’t work out for you and Mickey”. I frowned and shook my head. “No – let me rephrase that – I’m really sorry Mickey turned out to be such an asshole!”

I saw the ghost of a smile playing around her lips. “Elegantly put, sir! I’m glad that degree in English didn’t turn out to be a total waste of time!”

“Hey, I’ll have you know I can lead a very good class discussion on Shakespeare’s use of scatological terms!”

“They let you do that in high school English?”

I grinned; “That was an after-hours discussion in Meadowvale, with my Grade Twelve students. I must admit, I haven’t had it yet with my sixth-formers”.

We looked at each other in silence for a moment, and I was conscious of her hand still resting on mine. Eventually she inclined her head a little and said, “Thanks for coming back into my life, Tom – and into Lisa’s too”.

“Thanks for making room for me”, I replied softly.

******

Owen and Lorraine arrived at the pub around seven-forty-five; they went to the bar to order drinks and then came across to our table. “May we join you?” Owen asked.

“For sure”, I replied.

They sat down, and he gestured toward our empty plates. “What’s this – a dinner date?”

Wendy glanced at me and then shook her head; “Dinner, but not really a date”.

“Just having some good friend time”, I added.

“If you insist!” he replied with a mischievous grin. “Bill tells me we’re on around nine o’clock?” 

“Is that alright?” Wendy asked.

“Perfect”.

A few minutes later I saw Becca and Emma coming into the pub, and I was surprised to see Lisa with them. “Look who’s here”, I said to Wendy.

“I didn’t know Lisa was coming tonight”.

“Looks like a plot of Emma’s – she’s good at this sort of thing”.

Emma had seen us; she gave us a cheery wave and made her way over to where we were sitting, followed by Lisa and Becca. She leaned over and kissed the top of my head; “I brought a couple of extra groupies!”

“So I see”.

“Okay if we squeeze in with you?”

“Of course; grab a few chairs”. I smiled at Lisa; “You’re brave, joining all these folkies tonight!”

“I thought I’d stretch my boundaries a bit”.

“When did you and Emma cook up this plot?”

“After Mum left to pick you up, actually; she rang me a few minutes later to ask if I was doing anything tonight”.

“Excellent”.

******

By eight o’clock the pub was full; over the months since we moved to Oxford I had come to the Friday night open stage often enough to recognize some of the faces, and there were a good number of instrument cases scattered around the room. Bill was still acting as the host, and he kicked the evening off by welcoming everyone and introducing the first act – a young woman, obviously from Yorkshire by her accent, who played and sang a couple of traditional songs as well as one original number. She had a very expressive voice and it was obvious that the people were enjoying her; when she stepped down off the little corner stage the applause was enthusiastic, but Owen leaned over to Emma and said, “You could do as well as that, or better”.

She laughed; “I don’t think so!”

“I do; don’t forget I’ve heard you play. My guitar’s here and you’re welcome to borrow it if you want to”.

“You should do it”, Lisa said to her; “I’ve never had a chance to hear you play”.

“Neither have I”, Wendy agreed.

“She’s very good”, Becca chimed in with a grin.

Emma shook her head reproachfully at them all; “Alright – you can all stop ganging up on me now!”

******

It was just a couple of minutes after nine o’clock that Owen, Wendy and I took our places on the little stage, plugging in our guitars as Bill introduced us. “It’s a real pleasure to me tonight to introduce some very old friends of mine”, he said; “I’m proud to say that they played together for the first time on this very stage back in the autumn of 1980, when they were all students here. Please give a warm welcome to Owen Foster, Wendy Howard and Tom Masefield, who go collectively by the name of ‘Lincoln Green’!”

Everyone clapped enthusiastically as Owen stepped up to his microphone. “Tom and I actually started playing here a few years before that”, he said, “when we came up to Oxford in 1977. But Bill’s right – it was at this Friday night open stage some time in October of 1980 when we first heard Wendy sing; we thought she had one of the most beautiful voices we’d ever heard. Tom and I were playing a bit later on that night, and when we’d done a couple of songs I asked her to come back up and sing one with us. Fortunately for me, we picked one she knew! I don’t know if she’s ever forgiven me for embarrassing her like that, but here we are anyway, twenty three years later!”

Wendy stepped up to her own microphone and smiled playfully at Owen. “Later on tonight there’s going to be a premeditated murder in the car park”, she said; “I’ve been premeditating it for twenty-three years!”

Everyone laughed, and Wendy said “Speaking of murders, let’s get started with a good old-fashioned murder ballad – ‘The Two Sisters’!”

This was a song we had done occasionally in our student days, but Owen’s years of playing in a Celtic band had changed the way we performed it; he was using a flat pick and the sound was much more rhythmic. It was obvious that a good number of people in the pub knew the song; by the second of the nine verses they were singing along to the refrains and clapping to the rhythm. Owen and I sang the harmonies but it was Wendy who took command of the stage, as she had always done, and I smiled to myself, admiring the way she could lay her nervousness aside and take the lead so confidently. When we were finished the people applauded enthusiastically, and Owen put his hand on Wendy’s shoulder and said, “Wendy Howard on lead vocals, folks – what did I tell you?”

We sang another lively song from our old repertoire, ‘The Blind Harper’, and finished off with a slower number, ‘Ten Thousand Miles’. When we were finished we put our arms over each other’s shoulders and took a bow while the people clapped and whistled, and Bill came up onto the stage, beamed enthusiastically and said “What about that, then, folks? ‘Lincoln Green’!”

We stepped down from the stage and made our way back to our seats. Emma was still clapping, a broad grin on her face; “That was amazing!” she said, giving me a warm hug.

“Thank you!”

“It really was”, Lisa agreed. “I knew you were good when I heard you the other week out in Northwood, but hearing you on stage tonight – well, that took it to a whole new level!”

Lorraine was smiling at her husband; “Not bad – not bad at all!”

He nodded at Wendy; “She’s the one that makes all the difference, just like in the old days. Without her we were just two guys with guitars in a city that was full of them”.

“Not true at all!” Wendy protested.

We took our seats again, and Owen leaned over to Emma. “Bill says there’s still a bit of room at the end of the list, and the guitar’s all warmed up for you!”

She swatted at him playfully; “You stop, alright?” she said with a grin.

******

In the end Owen got his way; Emma gave in and asked Bill if there was still room for her on the list, and he was able to fit her in toward the end of the evening, just before eleven-thirty. She asked me if i would go up again and play with her, and I agreed. “But you take the lead”, I said; “This is me accompanying you, not the other way around”.

Bill introduced her as “Tom’s Canadian daughter, playing with her dad – no doubt she’s a chip off the old block!” The songs she chose came more from the bluegrass end of her repertoire – ‘The Blackest Crow’, ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ – although she surprised me at the end by telling me I could sit down now because she’d decided to finish with a solo instrumental piece. And so she concluded by playing her arrangement of ‘Plains of Waterloo’, to the evident delight of some of the old folkies in the audience, most of whom would have been familiar with the tune.

When she came back to our table and handed Owen’s guitar back to him, Lisa nodded and said, “Wow – that was impressive! How long have you been playing?”

“I think I started when I was eight or nine”, Emma replied, taking a seat beside her.

“Did your dad teach you?”

“Actually Beth started me off – you know, my second cousin, the one who used to be my babysitter?”

“Is she the one who’s expecting a baby in August?”

“Yeah; she’s seven years older than me, but we’ve been good friends for almost as long as I can remember”.

“She taught you well”.

“Thanks. Of course, I learned a lot from Dad too, and later on I played a lot with my cousin Jake”.

“What about you, Lisa?” Owen said teasingly; “There’s still time tonight!”

“Not a chance!” she replied with a grin; “I’m strictly a classical girl!”

******

When it was time to leave the pub I decided to ride home with Becca and Emma, while Lisa went with her mother. It was a warm April night and we all stood outside chatting for a few minutes. As Wendy was about to go she put her hand on my arm; “Will you let me know when you hear about your dad’s scan?”

“Sure – it’s on Wednesday, and I think he’s got an appointment with his oncologist Friday for follow-up, so I’m guessing that’s when we’ll know”.

“Right – thank you”. Owen and I were standing side by side; she smiled at us both and said, “Are you boys ready for another hug?”

“Always”, he replied.

The three of us moved together and gripped each other tight. “Thank you”, she said softly; “I’m really glad we did this”.

“Me too”, I replied.

Owen stepped back and grinned at Wendy and me; “We didn’t sound all that bad, did we?”

“Not bad at all”, Wendy replied.

*****

Link to Chapter 26

Sermon for Easter 2 on Acts 4:32-35

Today is the second Sunday of the season of Easter. In the Christian church Easter isn’t just one day to sing Easter hymns and eat chocolate. Easter is a season and it lasts for fifty days, from Easter Sunday to the Day of Pentecost. This is the longest special season in the entire Church year, and it bears witness to the fact that the Resurrection of Jesus is the most important part of our faith, the part that everything else is based on. So we celebrate it for fifty days, reading the scriptures and singing the hymns and praying the prayers that testify to our belief that Jesus is alive and that he is Lord of all.

Easter is also a traditional time for baptisms. The early Christians of course were all converts; they could remember a time when they did not know the light of Jesus. They used dramatic language for their conversion; they said they’d passed from darkness to light, or that their old life had ended on the cross with Jesus, and their new life had been born out of his empty tomb. And so they went down into the waters of baptism – like a drowning in the death of Jesus – and they came up again, wet through and gasping for breath, beginning a brand new life as followers of their risen Lord.

Baptism in the early church was never just about individuals in isolation. It certainly had absolutely nothing to do with giving a baby a name and then sending her on her way to live a life completely separate from the Christian fellowship of the church. We Christians believe that our faith is a community thing: ‘Webelieve in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord’. We pray a community prayer: ‘OurFather in heaven, hallowed be your name…’. We’re told to love one another, encourage one another, be patient with one another, and lay down our lives for one another. None of this makes any sense if we never take part in the community. Baptism is about joining the family of Jesus.

What’s that family all about?

In the Book of Acts, Doctor Luke – the author – gives us some lovely little summaries of the life of the early church. I want to be careful about using the word ‘church’ here, because when we hear it we think about buildings, and bishops, and robes, and organizations, and professional clergy, and so on. But the early church had none of that: no buildings, no professional employees, no canons and constitutions, no five-year plans. The early church was a loose association of little house churches, scattered around the eastern Mediterranean. Almost all their missionaries and pastors were volunteers, and everyone who joined it did so because they’d been gripped by something amazing – something that had changed their lives and given them a joy and hope they’d never imagined possible. That joy and hope had taken over the central place in their lives. It was more important than their homes and possessions, more important than their families and friends, more important than worldly success or wealth, more important even than life or death.

What was that ‘something’? Peter announced it on the Day of Pentecost, to a crowd that probably included people who had taken part in the murder of Jesus a few weeks before: “Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).

In other words: ‘You thought he was a madman, a religious fanatic, a blasphemer, a man who was leading people astray. And you thought he was a danger to the Roman empire with all his talk about the Kingdom of God coming in power. So you joined together, you high priests and leaders of Israel; you got the Romans on your side, and you raised a gang of thugs, and you took him and crucified him. And you laughed at him while he was dying, and asked him where God was now, if God loved him so much. And then you watched as his loved ones put him in a tomb, and you posted a guard on the tomb, just to make sure nothing untoward happened.

‘We thought he was finished too. We’d followed him all the way from Galilee; we believed he was the King God was sending to set his people free. We were totally shattered when he was killed; we thought we’d been wrong about him. How could God allow the true Messiah, the true King, to be defeated? The only conclusion we could come to was that he’d been wrong, and we’d been wasting our time.

‘So we were ready to give up. But then on Sunday morning some of our women went to the tomb and found it empty. The body was gone! Not only that, but they said they’d seen a vision of angels who said he was alive! We didn’t believe them at first, but then one of them said she’d actually seen him. Later that day a few more of us saw him too; we couldn’t believe our eyes! That evening a group of us were all together in one place and he appeared to us, showed us the wounds in his hands and side, and told us he was sending us out, just as the Father had sent him.

‘And so it went on. Our friends kept seeing him; we never knew when he might show up. Sometimes we saw him in ones and twos. Once there were a group of five hundred of us at once. Sometimes we saw him in Galilee; other times back in Jerusalem. Those meetings went on for six weeks, until he told us they were going to come to an end; he was going to ascend to heaven to take the place of authority beside his Father, and he was going to send the Holy Spirit to give us power to be his witnesses and to tell the whole world that he is Lord of all’.

That’s what those early Christians experienced and believed. For the earliest ones, it was a matter of eyewitness testimony: they had seen the physical body of Jesus, raised from the dead. For those who came after, it was less clear-cut: they believed the evidence given them by the eyewitnesses, partly because they continued to see in the early church some of the miracles and healings that Jesus had performed. And when they committed themselves to Jesus, they knew within themselves that they had been given the gift of the Holy Spirit to connect them with the risen Jesus.

What is this community that we’ve been baptized into? What’s it meant to be all about? Looking at our text for today from Acts 4:32-35, let me suggest three things:

First, even today, it’s a community that gives testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. This is the defining truth of Christianity. Writing to the little Christian house churches in the Greek city of Corinth twenty-five years later, St. Paul put it like this: ‘If Christ has not been raised, our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain’ (1 Corinthians 15:14). If Jesus has not been raised from the dead – if he is not alive today as Lord of all – then we’re wasting our time this morning. If all we’re about is the golden rule, then we don’t need to be Christians; even atheists can believe in the golden rule. It doesn’t define Christianity. Christianity is defined by the conviction that love is stronger than death: that Jesus loved his enemies and prayed for those who hated him, and after they killed him God vindicated him by raising him from the dead.

That means we’re people of hope. We’re people who have no need to fear death, because we know it’s only temporary. ‘Sleeping in Jesus’ – that’s what they called it in the early church! Sleep is temporary; the sleepers are going to wake up! The early Christians had seen one of them wake up – their beloved Lord Jesus Christ – and they had heard him promise that those who believed in him would live, even though they died. So we can face the moment of our death cheerfully, without fear, because we believe the promise Jesus made to us.

And this makes a difference in our daily lives. Because we believe in the resurrection we’re people of hope, and because we’re people of hope we don’t give up on hopeless people. Sometimes we feel hopeless ourselves, but we don’t even give up on ourselves! If God can raise people from the dead, then there is always hope in God. So we’re called to be a community of stubbornhope: never giving up on others, or ourselves, because God doesn’t give up on us.

This is a community that announces loud and clear to all the world that we believe Jesus is alive from the dead and Lord of all. That’s the first thing. The second thing is that this belief holds us together. Luke says in verse 32: ‘Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul’.

On Good Friday I felt this in a powerful way. I hope you were here on that day. If you weren’t, then do yourselves a favour and come next year! Toward the end of the service we brought in a wooden cross and stood it at the front here. Then we all came up and made a rough circle around the cross, fifty or sixty of us. Standing around the cross, we prayed our prayers for the whole world. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I was close to tears in that moment. I have rarely felt the reality of the family of God so strongly as I did then. We were younger people and older people, long time members of this church and newer folks. Some raised as Anglicans, many not. Some better off, some not. Some politically liberal, some conservative. But at that moment, what we had together in Jesus was more important than anything that divided us. We were ‘one in heart and soul’.

We baptized Christians are meant to live this out. Being a Christian is not something you can do by yourself. It never has been. Jesus called people to become his disciples, and that meant they had to join a community. This community meets together to pray and learn and support each other. It’s not meant to be a community of strangers who nod at each other on Sunday and then go their separate ways. We’re called to get to know each other, to let our guard down, to offer help and accept help. One of the most common phrases in the New Testament is the phrase ‘one another’. And it doesn’t say ‘ignore one another’! No: ‘Love one another’. ‘Encourage one another’. ‘Be patient with one another’. ‘Bear with one another in love’.

So first, this is a community that announces to the world that we believe Jesus is alive from the dead and Lord of all. And second, this is a community that is called to be one in heart and soul. Third, this is a community of grace. The last phrase of verse 33 says ‘great grace was upon them all’.

There’s always a problem when you try to translate words from one language into another. There’s never an exact equivalent! But we do our best, and we have to remind ourselves that there’s more to Bible words than meets the eye. So ‘grace’ in Greek is ‘charis’. Sometimes it’s defined as ‘unconditional love’: love you don’t have to earn, don’t have to measure up to. You don’t have to deserve it; it comes to you as a free gift. Grace is a defining characteristic of God, and Jesus lived it out in his daily life. He didn’t reject sinners; he embraced them. He ate and drank with outcasts and spent time with people everyone else rejected. ‘Grace’, says Philip Yancey, ‘means that there’s nothing you can do to make God love you more, and nothing you can do to make God love you less. God already loves you infinitely, and nothing will ever change that’.

So to say, ‘great grace was upon them all’ can mean ‘they were gripped by a sense of God’s indestructible, unconditional love for every single one of them – rich or poor, Jew or Gentile, men or women, holy people and less-than-holy people’. And that would be true.

But the word ‘charis’ is also connected to the idea of a gift – a free gift. And so you could also translate it as ‘generosity’. ‘Great generosity was upon them all’. In other words, they knew themselves to be the recipients of God’s generosity, and they also knew themselves to be called to be generous to one another.

This generosity was intensely practical. Luke says,

‘…no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common…There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need’ (Acts 4:32b, 34-35).

Now, we should not take Luke totally literally here. These verses make it sound as if this was a rule among the early Christians: if you want to join our community, first of all you’ve got to sign over all your possessions to us. But even a glance at the next few verses shows that this isn’t strictly true. In the next chapter a couple named Ananias and Sapphira lie to the community; they sell some land and bring the money to the apostles, but they keep some of it back for themselves. Peter confronts Ananias about it. He says, ‘While the land remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, were not the proceeds at your disposal?’ (5:4). In other words, ‘No one was forcing you to give everything, Ananias? So why did you lie and say you had?’

What is clear is that these early Christians sat lightly to their possessions, and made them available to one another, especially to the needy. In Acts 4:36-37 we read about a Christian called Joseph – the apostles gave him a nickname, ‘Barnabas’, which means ‘Son of Encouragement’ He’s listed here as an example of what those early followers of the Way practiced; he was apparently a man of property, but he sold a field and brought the proceeds to the apostles, and they used it to care for the poor.

This of course is very consistent with the teaching of Jesus. Jesus told us not to store up for ourselves treasures on earth. He told us to live simply and give to those who need help. Years later, when St. Paul was reflecting on this, he remembered the Old Testament story from the time of Moses, of how God provided bread for the people to eat in the wilderness. He took a scripture verse from that time and applied it to the little Christian community in Corinth: ‘The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little’ (Exodus 16:18). That’s the Christian ideal.

But it’s not a rule; it’s a freewill gift we offer to each other, and to our sisters and brothers in other parts of the world who suffer so much more than we do. In the same passage in 2 Corinthians Paul says, ‘Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver’ (2 Corinthians 9:7).

Let’s sum this up. We gather together this morning as a community of baptized Christians. This morning we will baptize a new member, Shiloh. She’s only a year old and has no idea what’s going on today, but her parents and godparents know what’s going on. They know that this isn’t just something magical we’re doing for her. This is about the grace of God coming into her life, giving her what she needs to grow as a follower of Jesus and a part of this community of St. Margaret’s church.

This is a community that ‘gives testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus’. We believe that he is alive and that he is Lord of all. No other Lord can compete with him – no president, no king or prime minister, no celebrity or business leader or media personality. The last word goes to our Lord Jesus. He is alive, and so there’s no need to fear.

Second, this is a community that is united by our belief in the risen Jesus. There are plenty of other things we’re divided about, but on this one thing we are united, or should be anyway: we believe that Jesus is alive and has given us his Spirit, and the Spirit draws us together as one. We are ‘of one heart and soul’.

Third, this is a community marked by great grace, or great generosity. We’re thankful for God’s generosity to us, and we’re learning every day to be generous to one another, and to let others be generous to us. Our goal ought to be these simple words of Luke: ‘There was not a needy person among them’ (v.34). We’re not there yet, because we’re not fully converted yet. Some of us would have to be honest and say that sometimes we don’t even want to be there yet! But then we come together again, and we hear the words of Jesus speaking to our hearts and we know what we’re being called to: a life of joyful generosity.

This is what it means to be people of the Resurrection. This is what it means to be baptized Christians. This is what you sign up for when you get baptized, or when you bring a child to be baptized. May this be true for us flawed and imperfect followers of Jesus at St. Margaret’s in 2018, just as it was true for the flawed and imperfect followers of Jesus in Jerusalem in the early 30s A.D. Amen.

‘A Time to Mend’ Chapter 24

Link back to Chapter 23

Sarah had her bone graft surgery on the Monday before Easter, and it went well.

On Wednesday evening I went along with Emma to visit her. She was lying on her back with her left leg elevated on a pillow; an older lady was lying fast asleep in the bed beside her, a faint snore coming from her slightly opened mouth. Sarah was looking a little pale, but she smiled cheerfully at us when we entered the room. “I was hoping you were coming tonight!” she said.

“How are you feeling?” Emma asked as she bent to give her a hug.

“Still sore, but the doctor said to expect that for a while. Hello, Uncle Tom!”

“Hello there, Sarah Irene!” I replied, giving her a hug and a kiss. “I don’t see any IV lines; are you sure you’re a real hospital patient?”

She laughed cheerfully; “They told me I only need pain killers now, and I can take them by mouth”.

“Excellent – you’re probably glad not to have things sticking into your arms any more”.

“Totally!”

Emma and I sat down on either side of the bed. “Thanks for coming in”, said Sarah; “I know you’re both really busy right now”.

“Especially Dad”, Emma replied; “He’s trying to herd his Year Elevens toward their GCSEs”.

Sarah nodded sadly; “I’m going to miss mine”.

“I know you would have done well”, I said gently.

She sighed; “I was hoping. Still, Mum’s looking into summer classes for me; I think my summer’s going to consist mainly of physiotherapy and schoolwork”.

“You know, when I think of the shape you were in when they brought you in here and all the obstacles you’ve overcome since then, it’s really amazing. You should be proud of yourself”.

She gave me an awkward smile; “Thanks. There were times I really wondered if I was ever going to get out of here”.

“Especially when you got the infection”, Emma said softly.

“Yeah – that was so awful! Everything was finally going well, and then suddenly I was condemned to another two months”. She shook her head; “Never mind – hopefully I’ll be out in three weeks”.

“In plenty of time for your sixteenth birthday”, said Emma.

Sarah grinned; “It won’t be long – just a couple of months!”

“Your birthday’s not too long after my dad’s”.

“When is yours?” Sarah asked me.

“June 15th. Yours is the 23rd, right?”

“Yes – wow, I’m surprised you remember!”

I shrugged. “Kelly was pretty keen on that kind of thing; I guess some of it rubbed off”.

“Emma told me you’re both going back to Meadowvale this summer”.

“That’s the plan”, I replied, “as long as nothing changes drastically with your grandpa”.

Emma frowned; “I still feel bad about leaving when you’ll just be getting up and around…”

Sarah shook her head. “You don’t need to feel bad – if it was me, and I’d been away from home for nearly a year, I know I’d be desperate to get back. You need to go and have a good time and not worry about me”.

Emma shrugged; “I will worry, though”.

Sarah wagged a finger crossly at her; “I order you to have a good time!”

We all laughed, and Emma said, “Okay, if you put it like that…!”

“So what are you going to do when you get there?”

Emma laughed; “I think I’ll be doing a lot of visiting! My grandparents, my aunts and uncles, my cousins, Beth…”

“She’s due some time this summer, isn’t she?”

“August 16th”.

“So you’ll probably be there when the baby’s born”.

Emma grinned; “I’m looking forward to it!”

Sarah gave a little frown. “Tell me again how you and Beth are related?”

“We’re second cousins. My mom and Beth’s dad are cousins; our grandmothers are sisters, on the Wiens side of my family”.

“So the baby will be…”

“My second cousin, once removed!”

Sarah laughed; “How do you remember all that stuff?”

“Mom was pretty good at it, and I’ve spent a lot of time since she died reading all the notes she made”.

“I hope I get to meet some of your cousins again one day”. Sarah turned to me with a wry grin; “I know they visited over here a few years back but I honestly don’t remember much about them”.

“You kids only met them once during the three weeks they were here. It was when your old house was being renovated”.

“I sort of remember that”.

Emma smiled at Sarah; “So were you up on your feet today?”

“Just for a short walk, with my crutches. The doctor wants me to exercise the leg, but he says I’ve got to be careful not to overdo it. He still says I can go home in three weeks, but he says the graft will take at least two months to heal properly, and I’m not to try strenuous walking or running or anything like that for several months – not until he’s told me everything’s okay”.

“Sounds like you’re going to have a nice quiet summer reading in the back yard!” I replied.

She laughed; “I’d be okay with that, but like I said, I think it’s going to be physiotherapy and schoolwork”.

“Right”.

“Although Dad says he’s hoping to take us away on a real holiday when the nice weather comes”.

I raised an eyebrow; “Anywhere in particular?”

“He says if the doctor will let me leave England he’ll try for the south of France; if not, at least we’ll go to Eastbourne or Brighton or somewhere there’s a nice beach. And he’s promised me he’ll take two or three weeks off in the summer anyway, so we can do things together when I’m free”.

Emma gave me a significant glance, and I nodded slowly; “That’s really great, Sarah”.

“I know; I’m so looking forward to it!” She gave her elevated left leg a determined glance; “So I really need to get this leg on the road to mending!”

“I think you’re going to be fine”, Emma replied.

******

As we were walking home Emma said “Uncle Rick’s never really taken them away for holidays. Normally in the summer he’s working and they end up going without him”.

“I know. I wasn’t really surprised by what she said, though”.

“How come?”

“Rick and I have been talking a lot; I think this accident has been a real turning point for him”.

“Is that right?”

I nodded. “He’s still going to work hard, but I think he’s going to try for a better work/life balance”. I frowned thoughtfully. “You know, Rick and I have been kind of distant over the years; I’ve never really had much to do with him and his family. Even when we came to visit here, we didn’t see much of them. But I’ve always known he took after Dad in his attitude to work, and I’ve always assumed he was kind of oblivious to his kids. I’m not assuming that any more”.

“No?”

“No. He’s always loved them, deep down, but I don’t think he realized how much until the accident”.

“He and Eric still butt heads”.

“I know”. I gave her a grin; “Even you and I butt heads occasionally, Emma Dawn!”

She laughed and took my arm; “Not very often!”

I leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. “No, not very often”.

*****

We went out to Northwood the day before Easter; my father was looking well, and we had an enjoyable visit that night over a quiet supper. The next morning at breakfast, to my surprise, my mother announced she was going to come along with Emma and me to the Easter service at the village church. I couldn’t help glancing at my father, and then Emma grinned at him and said, “There’s room for one more, Grandpa!”

He smiled; “This old skeptic is going to stay home and enjoy his Sunday Times, my dear”.

The church was full, and to my surprise I saw Owen and Lorraine and their family in the pew with Owen’s parents. Katie’s face lit up when she saw us coming in; “Emma!” she exclaimed in a voice that caused a few heads to turn around us, and Emma smiled and went over to give her a hug. “Hey, Katie!” she said; “Can I sit with you?”

Katie smiled with delight; “Yes! There’s room!”

After the service we grouped together with the Fosters to drink our coffee, and Owen turned to my mother. “About our musical get-together next weekend, Mrs. M,”, he said; “I was wondering if you’d mind if I brought the family? We’ve been a bit starved for Tom and Emma’s company, what with them being busy hospital visiting and discovering new relatives and all that, and you know Andrew and Katie adore Emma”.

“I don’t mind”, my mother replied, “and I’ll talk my husband into it”.

“I don’t want to get you into trouble, now!”

She laughed; “Why don’t you let me worry about that?”

“Fair enough; thank you!”

“You’re most welcome. And if you’re all coming, why don’t you come a bit earlier and join us for supper? We’ve already got Tom and Emma and Becca, and Wendy and Lisa and Colin, so a few more won’t make any difference”.

Owen glanced at me; “Won’t supper be a bit wasted on you and Wendy and me? We’ve never really liked singing on a full stomach”.

My mother frowned; “I never thought about that”.

“No need to worry, Mum”, I replied; “We just won’t eat very much, that’s all”.

“Why don’t we change the schedule around a bit, since it’s a Saturday? Why don’t you come and do the music earlier on, in the middle of the afternoon, and then stay for supper afterwards? That way you parents won’t have to worry about your young ones staying up too late”.

“I like that idea”, said Lorraine.

“I’ll have to check with Wendy”, I replied, “but as far as I’m concerned that would work fine”.

******

Emma and I went back out to Northwood the following Friday and stayed overnight. Mike Carey was working that weekend, but Becca came out on Saturday morning, and everyone else arrived early in the afternoon. We had decided to play in the piano room, so Emma and Becca brought in some chairs and put them in a rough circle, with Owen and Wendy and I in the corner at the back, beside the French windows.

When the Howards arrived Lisa came up to greet me with a hug. “Are you ready?” she asked.

“Oh yeah; it’s really just a practice”.

She grinned; “My mum’s not seeing it quite that way!”

“That’s what I hear”.

“How are you, Tom? You look a bit tired today”.

“I’m mostly okay. But it’s been a busy time at work, and I haven’t been sleeping all that well lately”.

“Is everything alright?”

“Oh yeah”.

I glanced across the room to where Emma and Katie were sitting beside each other on easy chairs; they were talking and laughing together, and I smiled at a sudden memory of Emma holding Katie when we had been visiting my parents for Christmas back in 1994. Katie had been four months old at the time, and Emma had just turned nine.

Lisa followed my gaze; “Who’s the girl?”

“That’s Owen’s daughter Katie. I’m sorry, I forgot – you haven’t met Owen and his family yet, have you?”

“No; I’ve heard about him of course, but I’ve never met him”.

“I’ll introduce you”.

“Katie, you said? She looks pretty comfortable with Emma”.

“They’ve been friends for a long time. The first time Emma held her on her lap, Katie was four months old”.

Lisa watched the two of them in silence for a moment, and then she turned to me again. “You’ve got such a strong network of positive relationships, Tom”, she said softly. “I really like that about you”.

“Thanks; I’m a pretty lucky guy. And I’m especially lucky to be able to add you to that network”.

“I feel quite lucky too”, she replied.

******

Owen had brought a couple of music stands and I had printed up lyric sheets for almost all our songs, in case Wendy had trouble remembering the words. Most of the songs we sang were from our old repertoire, although Owen and I threw in a couple we had learned since then, including an original Ellie Reimer bluegrass tune I had often played with her in our gigging days in Saskatchewan. At one point we asked Wendy to sing ‘The Snow It Melts the Soonest’ unaccompanied; we had often played it with her in our ‘Lincoln Green’ days, but we had also heard her sing it a few times a cappella, and we both enjoyed hearing it that way.

We took a break after about an hour; my mother made tea for everyone, Emma took Andrew and Katie outside to look around for a few minutes, and Owen sat with my father and had a visit with him. I smiled at Wendy; “You’re sounding great”, I said.

“Thanks. I was really nervous when I started out, but once we got going I forgot all about it. I don’t know what that was all about”.

“You always used to be that way”.

“Did I?” She grinned sheepishly at me; “I suppose I did, didn’t I? I don’t remember ever telling you, though”.

I shook my head; “You didn’t”.

“You just knew?”

“I did”.

She stared at me for a moment, and then shook her head. “One thing I’ve always known about you, Tom Masefield, is that there’s a lot more to you than meets the eye”.

“I feel the same way about you”.

“So how did you know I was nervous before gigs?”

“Because you overcompensated, like you did in other situations when you felt unsure of yourself. You came across as really confident and self-assured, but deep down inside, you were trying to convince yourself”.

“You knew that?”

“Yes”.

“Was it that obvious?”

“I don’t know; Owen never said anything about it to me, and I never asked anyone else about it. But I knew”.

“Why didn’t you say anything to me?”

“Because I was nervous too, of course”.

She nodded slowly; “We were just children, weren’t we?”

“Barely out of diapers”.

She laughed out loud; “There’s one of those Canadian words again!”

“What can I say? I’m a genuine, bona fide Canadian citizen”.

“Yes you are”. She got to her feet; “I’m going to get a cup of that tea”.

“That sounds like a good idea.”.

I talked with my mother and Becca for a few minutes, then went over to join Owen and my father. “What are you two talking about?” I asked.

Owen grinned at me; “Your dad was just reminding me that he gave me a glass of champagne here once”.

I frowned; “When was that?”

“You were holidaying when Emma was about four, and Lorraine and I came out one night to tell you she was pregnant with Andrew. Your dad brought out a very nice bottle of bubbly”.

“Oh right – I’d forgotten about that!”

Owen glanced at his watch; “Well, shall we get going again?”

“Sure; I’ll gather the troops”.

We tuned our guitars again, and when everyone had taken their seats Owen looked at Wendy; “Well, lead singer – what would you like to try?”

“I’ve been thinking about ‘Master Kilby’; do you boys remember how to play it?”

Owen shot me an anxious look, and I saw Emma glancing at me as well. I was quiet for a moment, and then I said, “I haven’t done that one in a while”.

“Do you want us to pick another one?” Owen asked.

“No, let’s do it. It is Emma’s birth song, after all!”

Emma laughed; “As long as I live, I’m never going to outrun that story, am I?”

“What’s the story?” Lisa asked.

I grinned at Emma; “Do you want to tell it”.

“No, you’re the one with the actual memory of it!”

“Okay”. I smiled at Lisa; “Kelly was almost nine months pregnant, but in her infinite wisdom she decided we needed to host a singaround at our house, because it had been a cold Fall and early winter and everyone needed cheering up – and anyway, the baby wasn’t due for a few days yet. So we had a few musicians over on a Friday night, and we’d been playing for a couple of hours when Kelly asked if we’d play ‘Master Kilby’ because it was her favourite song – we actually used it for the first dance at our wedding”.

“Ellie and I played it for you”, Owen added quietly.

“Yes, you did, and you surprised everyone by doing it live!”

“I remember that”, said my mother.

“Me too”, Becca added with a nod.

“So what happened at the singaround?” Lisa asked me.

I grinned; “We were just starting to play the intro to the song when Kelly’s water broke, and we had to stop everything so I could take her to the hospital. Nineteen hours later, Emma was born; Joe used to say she was doomed to be a musician!”

Everyone laughed, and Emma smiled at Lisa; “I’ve been hearing that story for as long as I can remember!”

“And you enjoy it every time!” said Becca.

“Yeah, I have to admit it’s pretty cool!”

Wendy put her hand on my arm; “Tom, I didn’t know about it being Kelly’s favourite song. I’m sorry; let’s pick another one”.

I shook my head; “No, I’ve been wanting to sing it again for a while. This is a good way to do it”.

And so we played the song, with Wendy singing the lead and Owen and I filling in the harmonies we had worked out for it years ago. When we were finished there was applause around the room. “That was beautiful”, my father said; “I think there’s a classical arrangement too, isn’t there, by Benjamin Britten?”

“There is”, my mother replied, “but the tune’s a bit different”.

Owen nodded. “Cecil Sharp originally discovered it in the west country in 1904. Nic Jones recorded it in the 1970s with more of a folk sound, but I think the Britten tune is closer to the one Sharp collected”.

“Well, it sounded great”, said Lisa, smiling at Wendy. “I don’t think that’s one of the ones you used to sing in the kitchen while you were doing the washing up!”

“No, I was actually a bit shy about singing it without Owen and Tom”.

******

We finished playing just before five o’clock. Becca had been sitting beside me in the circle, and she leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. “Brilliant”, she said, “even if the songs were mainly miserable folk songs!”

Owen laughed; “I tried to remember my two Smiths numbers, just for you, but they were completely gone from my memory”.

“That was a long time ago, Doctor Foster”.

“I happen to know you still listen to Morrissey, Doctor Masefield”.

“It’s true; I can’t deny it”. Becca got to her feet; “Mum, I’ll help you get the food on the table”.

“Twelve of us”, my mother replied; “Shall we use the dining room table, or just eat in here?”

“Let’s use the table”, my father said; “It’ll be more comfortable for everyone”.

So we squeezed everyone around the big table in the dining room; Emma and my mother had worked together earlier in the day to prepare two big pots of home-made soup and several plates of buns and sandwiches. My father sat in his usual place at the head of the table; I thought he looked tired, but nonetheless he seemed genuinely appreciative of our music. “It was very good”, he said; “Especially that a cappella piece that you sang, Wendy. I think I’ve heard it before, but not a cappella”.

“You’ve probably heard Dad play it a few times over the years”, Emma said; “It’s one of his favourites”.

“Some of those songs are very raw and gritty, aren’t they?” my father said. “They don’t sugar-coat reality. And they deal with subjects you tend not to hear in mainstream music”.

“That’s one of the things I like about them”, I replied.

He frowned thoughtfully. “The perspective was interesting, too. Even the stories about lords and ladies were told from the viewpoint of working people. And most of them were stories of everyman – even ‘everyman, the victim of the aristocracy’”.

“Yes”.

He gave me a wry grin; “I can understand how they would appeal to someone who likes Thomas Hardy”.

Wendy nodded; “That’s because Hardy so often writes from the viewpoint of ordinary working people”.

Tess of the D’Urbervilles”, said my father, “and The Mayor of Casterbridge”.

“Or just about any novel he wrote”, I said.

“Yes. And the way his stories grind on inexorably to sad endings – those songs reminded me of that”.

Wendy smiled at him; “I didn’t know you liked Thomas Hardy”.

He glanced at me with a mischievous grin. “Well, my son has been educating me a bit”.

******

Owen and his family left soon after supper. Wendy and I waved them off at the door; it was a warm evening and we lingered outside for a few minutes, enjoying the quiet, and the fresh country air.

“It’s gorgeous out here”, she said.

“Yes it is”.

She glanced at me; “Your dad did well today”.

“I think he genuinely enjoyed himself”.

“Still no sign of the cancer growing again?”

“No. I don’t think it’ll be long, though”.

“What makes you say that?”

I shrugged; “Just a hunch”.

Her eyes searched my face for a moment. “You look tired, Tom”, she said softly.

“I’ve not been sleeping especially well”.

“Do you know what that’s about?”

I nodded; “It’s just this time of year, Wendy”.

“This is close to the time when Kelly died, isn’t it?”

“She died on May 26th, but she was in and out of hospital through February, March and April. The first year after she died it was really bad; last year it wasn’t quite so intense and I thought maybe I was through it, but this year it’s bad again”.

“In what way?”

“I wake up in the night and I can’t get back to sleep. Or I’m doing stuff during the day and I get a really vivid memory. It happened this afternoon when Katie was sitting with Emma. I suddenly had this really vivid memory from Christmas 1994 when Emma was nine and Katie was just four months old. We were at Owen and Lorraine’s for lunch; Becca was there, and Kelly was holding Katie, and then Em asked if she could hold her, and Lorraine said she could. So Kelly passed her over – they were sitting beside each other, and then we all watched Emma holding Katie, and Becca said ‘A babysitter is born!’” I blinked, and lifted my hand to wipe my eyes. “I can see them as if it was yesterday; Kelly sitting beside Emma, and both of them looking at little Katie”.

Wendy took my arm; “I wish there was something I could do”, she said softly.

I shook my head. “It’ll pass; I just have to get through it”.

“Is there anyone you can talk to about it?”

“Em and I talk; she’s struggling with it, too. And Becca knows”.

“I’m sorry about that song this afternoon, Tom”.

I turned to face her. “No, Wendy – it’s a beautiful song, one of my favourites, and I was really glad to sing it with you”.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes – I’ve been avoiding it for nearly three years, and I’ve been wanting to sing it again, but I just couldn’t seem to get psyched up to do it, so I was really glad you suggested it tonight. I’ll be able to do it again now”.

“Good”. She looked up at me, and I noticed for the first time that when we were standing face to face, I didn’t have to look quite so far down as I had with Kelly. “Can I give you a hug?” she asked.

“You sure can”.

We held each other in silence for a moment, and then she said, “I really enjoyed myself today”.

“Me too”, I replied, stepping back and looking down at her. “It was really great to sing together again”.

“It was. I hope it won’t be too long before the next time”.

“So do I”.

We drew each other close again, and at that moment Emma appeared in the doorway beside us. For a moment I saw the surprise on her face, but Wendy didn’t hesitate; she held out her arm and said “Come and join the hug, Em. Your Dad was just explaining to me about this being an emotional time of year for him, and for you too”.

Emma nodded and moved into our embrace. “So many memories…” she whispered.

“I wish I’d had a chance to know your mum; she sounds like an extraordinary person”.

I felt Emma nodding against my shoulder; “She sure was”.

We were quiet for a moment, holding each other, and then Wendy said, “This has been a really good day”.

Emma stepped back and looked at Wendy and me; “It was amazing”, she said. “You guys were really good together. All these years I’ve heard about ‘Lincoln Green’ and wondered what you sounded like; now I know”.

“Actually, we sound better now that we used to”, Wendy replied, glancing at me. “Your dad and Owen are both much better players now, and I think we’ve all got a better feel for the songs than we had twenty years ago”.

“I think you’re right”, I agreed.

“Maybe you guys will do a gig together soon”, said Emma.

I smiled; “Well, Owen has a band”.

“I’m sure the Ferrymen wouldn’t mind sharing him!”

“We’ll see. Right now we’ve all got a lot of things going on in our lives”.

******

Much later that night, after everyone else had gone to bed, Becca and I went for a walk in the darkened garden. The air was cooler now and we were both wearing sweaters. “This brings back some memories!” she said as we skirted one of the flower beds.

“Getting out of the house for a few minutes at the end of the day?”

“Yes, although when I was eleven it wasn’t quite this late”.

“Sometimes you just needed someone you could let off steam with”.

“So did you, Tommy!”

“It’s true – I can’t deny it”.

She took my arm and we walked in silence for a couple of minutes, enjoying the quiet and the fresh spring smell in the air. Eventually I covered her hand with mine and said, “So – you and Mike?”

She was quiet for a moment, and then she said, “Yes”.

“Yes, you love him?”

“I don’t think I’ve ever stopped loving him”.

“Have you…?”

“Not yet, but I don’t think it’s going to be long”.

“You’re waiting for him to mention it?”

“Not necessarily. Waiting for the moment to feel right, I suppose”.

“And what…?”

She squeezed my hand. “Tommy, you’re my brother and I love you very much, but…”

“You want me to butt out?”

She laughed; “I wouldn’t have put it quite that crudely!”

“No, no worries”. In the darkened garden I gave her a grin; “I don’t mind you telling me to back off from time to time”.

“I won’t do it very often, I promise”. She smiled up at me. “And speaking of matters of the heart – you and Wendy…?”

“No”.

“No?”

“No, we’re just friends”.

“Not even a little bit of feeling there?”

“I only have feelings for one woman, Becs”.

“I know, but…”

I stopped and turned to face her. “Remember what you were saying a moment ago?”

She looked up at me, and then nodded. “I’m sorry”.

I leaned forward and kissed her on the cheek. “No – I’m sorry; I don’t mean to shut the door in your face. But it’s spring, and three years ago Kelly was dying”.

“I know – I keep thinking about that too”.

“I just can’t bring myself to think of anyone else, Becs”.

It was her turn to reach up and kiss me on the cheek. “I understand. Shall we walk on a bit?”

“Let’s do that,” I replied, “and then we can go in and make our hot chocolate”.

******

Link to Chapter 25

 

‘There You Will See Him (a sermon for Easter Sunday on Mark 16:1-8)

For as long as I can remember, Easter has been a day full of joy.

Of course, when I was a little boy, the joy was greatly enhanced by the chocolate! We used to get great big hollow eggs in those days, with Smarties or some other candies inside! Dark chocolate, white chocolate, little mint eggs – it was all wonderful. Easter egg hunts, chocolate bunnies – we spent the whole day on a sugar high!

As I got older and came to a conscious Christian faith of my own, the day took on a deeper significance. But again, it was the joy that was highlighted. Jesus had died on Good Friday, but on Easter Sunday he was gloriously raised. The defeat of Good Friday was turned into the victory of Easter Sunday! There was no longer any need to be afraid of death; Jesus had overcome it, and he had promised that he would overcome it for us as well. So we sang the joyful resurrection hymns, and we set out the Easter lilies, and we dressed the church all in white. As St. Augustine says, ‘We are an Easter people, and “Alleluia” is our song!’

Which makes it particularly surprising that in today’s gospel reading – taken from Mark, the earliest of the four gospels – there is no mention of joy at all. What emotions do we see here? ‘They were alarmed’ (v.5). ‘So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid’ (v.8). This isn’t surprising at the beginning of the reading, when the women saw that the tomb was empty and didn’t know what had happened to the body. But apparently the message of the resurrection didn’t lessen their fears; it actually increased them. ‘They fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them’ (v.8).

Throughout most of human history, people would have had no difficulty understanding that terror and amazement. Terror is an entirely appropriate emotion to feel in the presence of a god. The ancient Greeks and Romans never knew what their gods were going to get up to. They were completely amoral and completely unpredictable, and the best and safest thing to do was stay out of their way. And some of the Old Testament stories give the same impression: Yahweh comes down on Mount Sinai in thunder and lightning and warns people not to come close to the mountain on pain of death. Even today we get that same feeling sometimes; when we’re walking alone through dark woods at night, and we feel the hair standing up on the back of our necks and a shiver down our spine. Something’s out there, and we’re not quite sure what it is!

Religion is all very well when you can predict it and control it! You know what time the service is going to start and what time it’s going to end. You know exactly when you’ve fulfilled your obligations to God, and then you can go home and relax and enjoy the fact that the rest of the day is yours to do with exactly as you like! You can live the rest of your week without worrying about God at all; after all, he usually stays comfortably far away, and he never cramps your style.

Until now. Now a body that you watched being placed in a burial cave is gone, and the angel seated there says he’s been raised from the dead. God isn’t far away any more – God has come frighteningly close. God isn’t just an idea in a book the preacher reads from on Sunday; it turns out that God is quite equal to the task of reversing the process of decomposition and breathing new life into a corpse. And now you’ll never know for sure where he is; he won’t stay safely nailed to the cross or sealed in the tomb. Now he’s ‘going ahead of you’, and you’ll forever be playing catch up with him.

It’s absolutely vital for us to recover some of this sense of ‘terror and amazement’ that the women felt. The God who created every single star and planet in this enormous universe has done something incredible! So what’s he going to do next? What will he do to Peter, who denied three times that he even knew Jesus? What will he do to Pilate and Herod and the Jewish leaders, who conspired to kill him? They all thought Jesus was the holy fool and they were getting rid of his foolishness, but who’s the fool now?

A real encounter with God is like that. It’s thrilling and joyful, yes, but if it’s not even just a little bit scary as well, I question whether it’s real. I think of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia stories, when the children are asking Mr. Beaver if Aslan the Lion is safe. “Safe? Who said anything about safe? Of course he’s not safe! But he’s good!” And a few lines later Mrs. Beaver tells the children that if they can stand in the presence of Aslan without their knees knocking, there’s something very foolish about them! This is what Jesus is like in the gospels, isn’t it? He’s not ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild’. He loves his disciples, of course, and they love him – but I get the sense that they were usually just a little bit nervous in his presence, too – and rightly so!

This is what it means to be a Christian who believes in the Resurrection of Jesus. It means that we don’t have a comfortable God who we can control. It means we have a wildly unpredictable God who is constantly surprising us by doing things we thought he would never do. Calling women to be his witnesses, for instance, in a culture where the testimony of women was not even admissible in court. Calling them to be his followers in the first place, in a culture where married women weren’t expected to have dealings with men outside of their own family. Giving them dignity and respect, along with working class fishermen and Roman centurions and lepers and Revenue Galilee employees and all the rest. And later on, taking the message of the Gospel outside the nice safe borders of Israel to Samaria and Antioch and Corinth and Rome, where those nasty idol-worshipping pagans lived. What on earth was God thinking, doing a thing like that?

Before C.S. Lewis became a Christian, he spent months and even years struggling with his beliefs. Was he still an atheist? Was he an agnostic? Was he a sort of vague theist? Gradually he began to get the sense that he wasn’t the one asking all the questions here; there was Someone Else, another Presence in his life, a Presence that might want to question him! In a letter to a friend he said, “I’ve begun to realize that I’m not playing solitaire anymore; I’m playing poker!’ In other words: there’s another player at the table, and his presence is real!

I’m reminded of a story told by Anthony Bloom, a Russian Orthodox archbishop who was a medical student in Paris in the 1930s. At the time he was an atheist, but one day a priest came to speak to a youth group he belonged to. He listened to the talk and found himself getting more and more angry at what he was hearing; it was totally repugnant to him. But he wanted to check the truth of what he had heard, so he went home, discovered that the Gospel of Mark was the shortest of the four gospels, and sat down at his desk to read it. Here’s how he describes what happened next:

While I was reading the beginning of St. Mark’s Gospel, before I reached the third chapter, I suddenly became aware that on the other side of my desk there was a presence. And the certainty was so strong that it was Christ standing there that it has never left me. This was the real turning point. Because Christ was alive and I had been in his presence I could say with certainty that what the Gospel said about the crucifixion of the prophet from Galilee was true, and the centurion was right when he said, ‘Truly he is the Son of God’. It was in the light of the Resurrection that I could read with certainty the story of the Gospel, knowing that everything was true in it because the impossible event of the Resurrection was to me more certain than any event of history. History I had to believe, the Resurrection I knew for a fact…It was a direct and personal experience.[1]

That’s what Resurrection means. Jesus is not just a nice story in a book. Jesus is alive and real and doing things in people’s lives. And don’t you dare think you’re taking him anywhere! The angel says to the women, “He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you” (v.7). We don’t ‘take’ Jesus to people; Jesus is there long before we show up! Usually we’re the ones dragging our feet; the truth is that we’re going to spend the rest of our lives playing catch up with him!

So what message does he want to send to his frightened followers – the male ones, that is – the ones who fled for their lives while the women were standing near the cross? What message does he want to send to Peter, who denied three times that he even knew Jesus?

I think we need to remember how this must have been weighing on Peter’s mind. Just a few weeks before, Jesus had spoken these words to Peter and the other disciples:

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it…Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels…” (Mark 8:34-35, 38).

That’s exactly what Peter was guilty of. Instead of denying himself and taking up his cross with Jesus, he had denied Jesus. He had been ashamed of Jesus and his words, and now he must have been fully expecting that Jesus would be ashamed of him. He had forfeited all right to be part of the disciple community. He had sworn that even if everyone else deserted Jesus, he would not, but what had his proud words come to? Nothing! He had promised, but he had not delivered.

Can you identify with Peter this morning? How many of us have made commitments and then not kept them? Commitments to spouses and children, parents and friends, fellow-workers, other church members. Commitments to God in baptism and confirmation. We’re all afflicted with the human propensity to mess things up, to break things, to break relationships, to break people. We’re called to love God with our whole heart and soul and mind and strength, and to love our neighbour as ourselves, but we fall short every day.

So is a risen Lord good news for us? This must have been a serious question on Peter’s mind. Yes, of course he was overjoyed to hear the news, but a part of him must have been apprehensive about meeting Jesus again. What would Jesus say to him? Jesus had never been shy about upbraiding his disciples for their failures. Would Peter still be the leader of the apostolic band? Would he even be part of it?

Yes, he would. The angel says to the women, “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him just as he told you” (v.7). He doesn’t just say, ‘his disciples’; he explicitly says, ‘his disciples and Peter’. Jesus embraces his failures and makes them his fellow-workers. There’s forgiveness for the past, whatever we’ve done, and a readiness to move into the future and a fresh start with Jesus.

In Mark’s gospel the meeting with the risen Lord is not described. The original text of Mark breaks off abruptly at verse 8. Verses 9-20 are not present in the two earliest manuscripts of Mark that archeologists have discovered. And they don’t read like the rest of Mark; they read like a summary of stories we find in the other three gospels, as if very early in the history of the church someone felt that ‘Mark’ was incomplete and needed an extra ending.

Scholars aren’t sure why this happened. Did the original ending get lost? Or did Mark actually intend his story to end in this very unsatisfactory way, with the words ‘for they were afraid’?

We can’t be sure, but it does remind us that reading this story can never be the end for us. We can’t just read it or hear it read and then close the book and say, ‘That’s interesting’, or even ‘How wonderful that he was raised!’ Something’s still missing; we still haven’t met him. “He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you” (v.7). Galilee was their home, the place they’d grown up, the place many of them had made a living for years before Jesus came along. In other words, the place you’ll meet him is in the midst of your ordinary life – maybe even when you’re not expecting it, like Anthony Bloom reading Mark’s gospel and suddenly becoming aware that Jesus was standing on the other side of his desk, even though he couldn’t see him.

We may have an experience like that, or we may not. We may discover the presence of Christ in prayer, or we may find ourselves reading his teaching and finding that it grips us, and we suddenly know, not just that it’s true but that he’s true and real. We may meet with other Christians and find somehow a sense that someone else is in the room with us as we pray and read the Bible together. We may go through really difficult times and find ourselves strangely supported through it all, to the point that we just know a power greater than our own is at work.

There are hundreds of different stories of how Christians have encountered the Risen Christ. Some of them are dramatic, most are not. Some have come at the end of a long process of seeking him; some have come out of the blue, completely unexpected. We are all different, and Jesus very rarely repeats himself.

So this is the final note in this gospel story today. Fear isn’t actually the final note. The last verse says that the women disobeyed the angel and didn’t say a word to anyone, because they were so amazed. But we know they must have eventually gotten over that fear and opened their mouths; if they hadn’t, this gospel would never have been written! And we know that the amazed disciples did as they were told, and went to Galilee, where they did indeed meet Jesus. They had many other meetings with him, too – some in Jerusalem in the upper room, some by the lake in Galilee. They met him on roads and in houses; they met him in ones and twos, and in a group of five hundred or more. They never knew when he was going to show up.

So the final word of this gospel to us is expectancy. God has raised Jesus from the dead. He is going ahead of you. If you follow after him, you can meet him too. So follow him, do the things he has told you to do, and keep your eyes and ears open. Sooner or later, you’re going to get the surprise of your life.

[1] Anthony Bloom, Beginning to Pray (Paulist Press, 1970, p. xii).

‘A Time to Mend’ Chapter 23

Link back to Chapter 22

The following Wednesday evening I put in a couple of hours at my desk, marking papers and doing some preparation for the next day. Emma had done a six-hour shift at Marston Court, and then immediately after supper she had gone up to the hospital to visit Sarah. The weather had turned cool again, and there was a light rain falling against my window as I worked my way steadily through a pile of Year Eleven essays on Richard III.

At around eight forty-five I went downstairs to make myself some herbal tea. I was just pouring the boiling water into the pot when I heard the front door opening, and a moment later Emma came into the kitchen; “Hey”, she said as she put the car keys down on the table.

“Hey”. I turned from the counter to look at her, taking in the exhaustion on her face and the dark circles under her eyes; “You look beat”.

“It’s been a long day”.

I put my arms around her, and I felt her head coming down on my shoulder. “I love you”, I said softly.

“I love you too”.

“How’s Sarah?”

“Okay. Her leg was really sore tonight; they were giving her some extra pain medication but it didn’t seem to be touching it”.

“Do they know what’s causing it?”

“I don’t think so”.

I kissed her on the forehead. “I think maybe my girl needs some rest”, I whispered.

“I’m okay”.

“I made herbal tea instead of hot chocolate tonight; is that okay?”

“That’ll be fine; just let me splash some cold water on my face”.

We sat in our customary seats across from each other, our feet sharing the same footstool in the middle, our hands cupped around our tea mugs. Emma glanced at the book on the end table beside my chair; “What are you reading?”

“It’s a book Wendy recommended to me: The Rule of St. Benedict. Have you heard of it?”

“Something to do with monks, isn’t it?”

“Yes. He wrote it in the early sixth century when he was setting up monasteries in Italy. It’s strange, actually – even though I’m not a monk, there are parts of it that I find surprisingly relevant”.

“Maybe I should read it”.

“Maybe; I’ll give you my considered opinion when I’m done”.

“Have you heard from Wendy since the weekend?”

“I talked to her Monday, and I talked to Lisa last night”.

“I was talking to her today too, and Colin”.

“You don’t see much of Matthew and Alanna these days, except at church”.

“No”. She shrugged helplessly. “It’s not like I don’t want to see more of them, but there never seems to be enough time”.

“Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to cut back a little on your hospital visits. Sarah’s getting better now, and Rick and Alyson and the rest of the family visit her regularly”.

“Some of her school friends go too, especially Brittany”.

“Right”.

She frowned thoughtfully. “I know she’s close to her mom and she talks to her a lot, but I’m not sure how much she tells the others – even Brittany”.

“You think she opens up more to you?”

“Sometimes”. She smiled at me; “I’m not trying to pretend like I’m indispensable or something, but I think she leans on me a lot”.

“She probably know she can trust you”.

“I’d like to think so”.

“I can’t help worrying though. I know you’re eighteen and a grown woman and all that…”

She grinned; “I feel some fatherly advice coming on!”

“Do you want me to back off?”

She shook her head; “No”, she said softly.

I leaned forward in my chair. “We don’t need another sick Masefield, love, and you’re going to make yourself sick if you don’t take regular breaks. You like getting outdoors and being active, and you like sitting down for an evening to read a good book. You haven’t done much of that for a while”.

She nodded. “I know you’re right; I just don’t want to let people down, that’s all”.

I looked at her in silence for a moment and then said, “What do you think your mom would say?”

She frowned thoughtfully, her eyes suddenly far away. After a moment she looked at me with a grin; “I think she’d give me a big hug, and then she’d say something like, ‘You don’t need to be the Messiah, Em – that job’s already taken!”

We both laughed; “Yeah – that sounds like her!” I replied.

She gave me a serious look. “Mom was the wisest person I’ve ever known”.

“Yes she was”.

“I’ll think about this, Dad – I promise”.

“Good”.

******

The pain in Sarah’s leg turned out to be significant. By Friday she had become quite feverish; Dr. Fellows was called in, and he prescribed a series of tests. The following Tuesday Rick and Alyson got a call to meet him at the hospital, where he confirmed that Sarah had developed an infection in her bone tissue. He put her on antibiotics immediately, but he told Rick and Alyson that if things didn’t improve by Thursday he would need to go back into the wound and clean out the infection surgically.

Rick and Alyson came over to our place that night, and Becca showed up a little later; Emma was working an evening shift at Marston Court. I made a pot of herbal tea, and we sat around my kitchen table and talked.

“I don’t understand how this could have happened”, said Rick. “I thought things were going well, but now the doctor tells us infections like this aren’t uncommon. Don’t they take special precautions?”

“Of course they do”, Becca replied, “but sometimes bacteria manage to get through anyway. When you’ve got an open fracture with torn muscles and ligaments and skin breaks it’s not always easy to keep bacteria or fungus out of the wound. Sometimes it happens early on in the process; sometimes it comes later”.

“So what happens now?” asked Alyson.

“What exactly has the doctor told you?”

“He said he’d put her on a strong dose of antibiotics for a couple of days. If it doesn’t clear up, he said he’d need to do surgery again to clean it out, but he didn’t explain to us exactly what that would mean”.

Becca shook her head. “There’s no point in worrying about things that might not happen. I think we should wait, and cross that bridge when we come to it”.

“What aren’t you telling us?” asked Rick.

Becca sighed; “You should be asking Dr. Fellows, not me”.

“But he’s not always easy to pin down”.

Becca was quiet for a moment, avoiding their gaze. I looked around at them; “I think we’re putting Becs in a difficult position” I said. “She’s trying to be a sister and a doctor at the same time, and those roles aren’t always easy to combine”.

“We understand that”, Alyson said to Becca, “and we don’t want to push you to give us information if you think you shouldn’t. But we’re worried, Becca, and we’d like to have some idea of what might be ahead”.

Becca nodded; “I do understand”. She frowned thoughtfully; “Okay – at this stage, we’re probably dealing with what we call a chronic osteomyelitis”.

“That sounds like what the doctor said”.

“What the surgery would involve will depend on how serious the infection is. It might be as simple as opening up an abscess and draining the pus. But it might also include removing infected bone tissue – in which case they might have to put temporary filler in until she’s strong enough to do a bone graft. They won’t really know until they go in”.

Rick stared at her; “Removing bone tissue sounds drastic”.

“Yes but it’s not uncommon, Rick, and there’s a well-travelled path to recovery. This is why I didn’t want to say anything about it to you; I didn’t want you to worry about things unnecessarily”.

“No – we’re glad to know what might happen. Thank you”.

“This would keep her in hospital longer, wouldn’t it?” asked Alyson.

“Yes”, Becca replied, “but I wouldn’t like to predict how long. There would be a time lapse between putting the temporary filler in and doing the bone graft”.

“Do you have to worry about rejection?” Rick asked.

“They’d probably use bone from somewhere else in her body, so that’s not such a big issue”.

“There’d be another wound, then?”

“Yes”.

He shook his head sadly, his eyes staring out into space; “It never seems to end, does it?”

Alyson put her hand on his; “It’s not your fault”, she said softly.

“Yes – it is”.

The antibiotics turned out to be insufficient to combat the infection, and so a couple of days later Dr. Fellows took Sarah back into surgery. He told Rick and Alyson afterwards that it had been necessary for him to remove a small amount of bone tissue; he had put a temporary filler in, and would need to do further surgery in a few weeks to perform a bone graft. “It went as well as could be expected”, he said to them, “but there’s no getting away from the fact that this is a setback; its going to lengthen her stay in hospital considerably”.

Becca came over to our place that evening; Emma made a pot of tea and the three of us sat around the kitchen table to drink it. Becca filled us in on what she knew about the surgery; “We’re probably looking at a much longer stay in hospital now”, she said. “I think that by the time she’s strong enough to have the bone graft we might be into the middle of April, and it’ll take a few weeks to make sure the graft takes”.

“So it could be the middle of May before she gets out”, said Emma.

“It could be”.

“And then she’ll have to have daily physiotherapy for a couple of months after that?”

“Yes”.

Emma shook her head; “By the middle of May she’ll have been in that hospital for four and a half months. And she’ll basically have lost her fifth year; there’s no way she’ll be able to catch up in time to do her GCSEs in June”.

“Well, we knew that would probably happen”, I replied; “I don’t know if this latest setback really makes a big difference to that”.

Emma looked across at Becca; “Has she been told everything yet?” 

“I think Rick and Alyson are with her now”.

“I should go see her tomorrow afternoon; she’s going to need all the support she can get”.

Becca looked at her in silence for a moment, and then reached across and put her hand on hers. “My niece, the one who cares for everybody”, she said. “Just don’t forget to take care of yourself sometimes, alright?”

“I know; Dad and I have already talked about that”.

The next day Emma had a day off work, and she had not emerged from her room by the time I was ready to leave for school. I made her a cup of tea just before I left, taking it up to her room and knocking on the door. “Are you awake, Em?” I asked softly.

“Yeah; come in”.

She was sitting up in bed reading a book; she grinned up at me as I put the tea down on her bedside table and bent to kiss her on the top of her head. “On your way to school?” she asked.

“In a couple of minutes. Decided to have a lazy morning, did you?”

“Yeah”.

“Mind if I sit down for a minute?”

“Go ahead”.

I sat down on the edge of her bed; “So – what are your plans for the day?”

“I’ll go up to the hospital for a while after lunch, but I thought I’d have a quiet morning”.

“What are you reading?”

She lifted the book so I could see the cover; “A Wizard of Earthsea”.

I grinned; “Revisiting an old friend?”

“I love this book”.

“I know; so do I”.

“I’ll get up and go for a walk in a while; do we need any shopping done?”

“We’re fine. You just enjoy yourself, and when you go up to the hospital you be sure to give Sarah a hug from her Uncle Tom”.

“I will; thanks, Dad”.

“Tell her I’ll come up and see her tonight if she’s feeling up to it”.

“Okay”.

I held out my arms to her; “Would you like a hug?”

Without hesitation she leaned forward and we put our arms around each other. “Thank you”, she whispered as we held each other tight; “I love you, Dad”.

“I love you too, my special girl”.

“I’ve been thinking about what you said”.

I released her and leaned back a little, looking her in the eye; “Yeah?”

“Yeah. I’m going to slow down a bit; I know Sarah will understand”.

“Good”.

That night I went up to the JR to see Sarah; she was in a room by herself, sitting up in bed reading a book with a couple of IV lines hooked up to her arm and several machines whirring and beeping behind her. She was obviously tired and sore, but her face lit up when I entered the room. “Uncle Tom!” she said; “Emma said you were going to come in tonight”.

I bent to kiss her on the forehead. “How are you feeling?”

“A bit sore, but I’ll be alright”.

I glanced at the book in her hands; “What are you reading?”

She showed me the cover. “Emma lent it to me; it’s a poetry anthology”.

“I recognize it; I think I might have given her that one. I didn’t know you were interested in poetry”.

“I’ve just started getting interested. Emma’s been telling me I should give it a try”.

“Are you enjoying it?”

“Yes I am. I don’t always understand the poems, but some of them are really good”

We talked for about twenty minutes about the poems in the book and the people who had written them. She had particularly enjoyed a couple of pieces by Gerard Manley Hopkins, and we had just begun to talk about the way he used language when I heard the door open behind me, and I turned to see Rick and Alyson coming into the room. Rick was dressed casually and was still using his crutches to walk; I got up to greet them both, and then as they bent to hug their daughter I said, “Well, I should be going”.

“Don’t leave on our account, bro”, Rick replied. “We’d be glad to enjoy your company for a few minutes”.

“Well – if you’re sure?”

“Of course”.

“Okay then; I’ll go and find another chair”.

So I sat with them for about half an hour, joining in the conversation now and again, but mostly just sitting quietly and listening as they talked. Rick was sitting on the other side of the bed, his hand on Sarah’s, listening to what she had to say, his eyes barely leaving her face. It was a long time since I had seen him pay such close attention to anyone.

Eventually I got to my feet. “Time for me to be heading home. Do you want a hug, Sarah Irene?”

She grinned up at me; “You’re the only one who calls me Sarah Irene!”

“They’re both beautiful names”, I replied, bending down to hug her; “Beautiful names for a beautiful niece”.

“Thanks”, she whispered in my ear, “and thanks for coming to see me”.

Rick glanced at his watch; “Are you going home to do some work?”

“Yeah – I’ve got about an hour of marking to do before I call it a night”.

“Fair enough. Is there a time in the next few days you might like to go for a pint?”

“We’re going out to Mum and Dad’s tomorrow morning and staying til Sunday afternoon, and I’ll need to do some more schoolwork Sunday night. How about Monday night?”

“That would be fine”.

“Do you want to meet in town somewhere?”

“How about the Bird?”

“The Eagle and Child? That would work. Shall we meet about seven-thirty?”

“Sounds good”.

There was a light rain falling again on Monday night when I parked my car on St. Giles’ and walked across to the Eagle and Child pub. Rick was already there, dressed in jeans and an old sweater, his hair a little unkempt, his crutches propped up against the wall behind him. I bought drinks for us at the bar and went over to join him in the corner under the photographs of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and the other Inklings. “How are you feeling?” I asked as I took my seat beside him.

“Not bad. The pain still bothers me a bit, but you get used to it”.

“They haven’t figured out what’s causing it?”

“The doctor just says it’s not uncommon for people recovering from this kind of open fracture. Of course, when I think about what Sarah’s going through right now…”

“No kidding”.

“At least I can drive around a bit now”.

“Are you still working mainly from home?”

“This past week I’ve started going into the office a few hours each day. There’s only so much a barrister can do from home; sooner or later you have to start seeing clients again. I still get tired quickly, though, and then I’m not much use to anyone. To tell you the truth, bro, it’s rather discouraging”.

“I guess it would be”.

“So I’ve got my little routine. I drive in to the office after Eric and Anna leave for school, and I put in a morning’s work, and probably a lunch meeting. After that I put my head together with my assistant for a few minutes, and then I go home and sleep for a couple of hours. Then I wake up, make myself a cup of coffee, take down one of Alyson’s recipe books and pick an interesting looking recipe for supper. I’ve never had much time for that kind of thing, but I’m actually quite  enjoying it, so I’m doing most of the cooking around our house right now. I get supper ready, and I spend time with Eric and Anna when they get home from school, and they help me with any little jobs that need a bit more mobility than I’ve got. Alyson comes home from work, and we eat at the dining table or we take our food into the living room and watch a movie or some television with supper. And then the kids wash up and get going on their homework, and Alyson and I go to the hospital to visit our girl”. He shrugged; “That’s what my days look like”.

“It’s a full schedule”.

“Yes, but it’s doable because I don’t try to work all day. It would be unmanageable if I was  working my old hours, but I can’t. And to be honest with you, I don’t want to”. He took a sip of his beer and looked away. “It’s strange, actually, how quickly I’ve lost interest in it”.

“Yeah?”

“Yes. Oh, don’t worry, I’m not about to do anything stupid like dropping out and becoming a jobbing gardener; I know we need the income, and I’ll keep at it. But I haven’t got the fire in my belly to work the sort of hours I used to; I just can’t see the point”.

I stared at him. “This is a new tune for you”.

He nodded; “Causing a car accident that killed a single mum and seriously injured your own daughter can prompt you to take stock”.

“The accident wasn’t your fault, Rick”.

He shrugged; “That’s what everyone keeps telling me, but I can’t convince myself. The roads were dangerous and I should have told Sarah it wasn’t safe to go out. If I’d been a more responsible father instead of being too lazy to do anything but take the path of least resistance, that young mum would still be alive and Sarah wouldn’t be lying in a hospital bed tonight”. His eyes met mine; “I don’t want to be excused, Tom. What happened was my fault and I’ve got to live with that”.

I took a sip of my beer; “Watching you and Sarah was a lovely experience the other night”.

He smiled; “She’s a good kid, isn’t she?”

“With a good dad”.

He shook his head, looking down at his glass; “I’ve got lots of ground to make up”.

“More credit to you for doing something about it, then”.

He was quiet for a moment, his eyes far away. An older couple sat down at the table beside ours, glasses of beer in their hands; at the other end of the room, someone gave a cheery greeting to a friend.

“You and Emma have been brilliant”. Rick raised his eyes and looked at me. “From the day we had the accident you’ve been there for us, despite everything else that’s been going on in your lives. Emma’s been wearing herself out for Sarah, day in and day out, as well as spending time with Eric and Anna”.

“I’ve asked her to slow down a bit, actually”.

“Because she’s getting overtired?”

“You’ve noticed?”

“Last time I saw her I thought she looked exhausted. She was doing her best to be cheerful for Sarah, but I could tell she had hardly any energy left”.

“Yeah. We’ve had a couple of conversations about it; she loves being helpful to everyone but she knows she can’t sustain this pace”.

“Do you want me to talk to her?”

I frowned; “You know what – why don’t you leave it with me for now? Like I said, we’ve had a couple of good conversations, and I think she’s going to make some changes”.

“Well, she’s your girl and you know her best, but please tell her from me that no one in the family expects her to wear herself out. And tell her we’re grateful for everything she’s been doing”.

I nodded; “I’ll tell her that. Thank you”.

He shook his head; “No – thank you”.

******

Link to Chapter 24

Why Have you Forsaken Me? (a sermon for Good Friday on Psalm 22)

I recently read a wonderful book called ‘Everything Happens for a Reason, and Other Lies I’ve Loved’ by Kate Bowler. The book is about Kate’s experience, as a woman in her thirties, about being diagnosed with terminal cancer – of looking at her young husband and her four-year old boy and knowing the chances are very good they’re going to lose her. It was written during the first year of Kate’s diagnosis – she’s still alive, thanks to an experimental drug treatment, but her diagnosis is still terminal. It’s a wonderfully honest and refreshing book; you will not find clichés here! That’s what the title means, of course. So many of us have experienced this! We’re going through some time of deep suffering and some well-meaning soul says piously “Oh well – everything happens for a reason”, and somehow we just can’t find any comfort in that phrase; it just annoys us!

In one of the funniest chapters of the book, Kate talks about how she decided to take up swearing for Lent. Now, I’m a person who one year decided to stop swearing for Lent – I fined myself a dollar off my open stage beer money for every infraction – so I was intrigued by the idea that swearing could be a good Lent discipline! As I read the chapter I realized what she was doing: she was protesting against this need that Christians seem to have to dismiss death and suffering and give easy answers for everything. Her Lenten swearing discipline was aimed at those easy answers.

She talks about how she was out for coffee with friends one night and got so frustrated with this Christian desire to jollify everything. “This is Lent”, she said. “I’m dying of cancer – I’m staring into the face of death – and during Lent the church has asked all its members to join me there. We started out with an ash cross and the words ‘Remember you are dust, and to dust you will return’. That sets the theme for Lent! But no one is willing to stay there with me!” And then she uses this wonderful phrase – probably my favourite phrase of the whole book: “Everyone is trying to Easter the crap out of my Lent!”

Well, we’re not going to ‘Easter the crap out of each other’s Lent’! Today is Good Friday, and although all around us people have started wishing each other Happy Easter, we’re going to stay with the cross today. And one of the best ways of doing that is staying with our psalm, Psalm 22. Here are the first two verses:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest. (Psalm 22:1-2).

And then in the next few verses the mood seems to change abruptly.

Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved;
in you they trusted, and were not put to shame. (vv.3-5)

 In other words, ‘There are all sorts of stories about how you worked mighty miracles to help our ancestors in the past; they trusted you and you saved them. So what’s the matter with me? Am I a worse sinner than them? Am I not really one of your people after all? Or are those stories just not true?’

‘And what have I done to deserve this?’ the psalmist asks. In verses 9-11 he talks about how he has been dedicated to God since he was born; ‘since my mother bore me you have been my God’ (v.10). He looks back on a life dedicated to the service of God, and asks himself if this is all the reward he gets. Why did he bother, if he was just going to be abandoned?

Which of us hasn’t felt like this from time to time? I think of people living with long-term, chronic pain who don’t seem to be able to get any relief. They pray over and over again; they lie awake at night, unable to sleep, doing their best to hold back the tears so as not to wake their spouse. They read stories about how God miraculously heals people, and they think, ‘Why doesn’t he heal me, then? Am I some particularly vile sort of sinner, that he refuses to help me? I always thought I was a Christian and a child of God, but perhaps I was wrong – perhaps I’m really nothing to God’. You see, the worst thing this sort of suffering does to some people is not to stop them believing in God, but to stop them believing in a loving God, and give them a monster instead.

Psalm 22 is a prayer for people who feel like that; it enables us to pray our experience, honestly and openly, before God. It’s the prayer of the person who suffers chronic pain day and night. It’s the prayer of the person who’s suffered some public disgrace and is afraid to show their face in public for fear of the ridicule they’ll encounter. It’s the prayer of the bereaved person who longs for some sort of sense of companionship from God in their loneliness, but finds only empty skies above.

And this is the prayer of Jesus on the Cross. ‘At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”’ (Mark 15:34). Jesus was a Jewish boy who would have learned the psalms by heart at a very early age. Now, in his hour of greatest need, the psalms gave him the words he needed to pour out his heart to the Father he felt had abandoned him.

The early Christians developed a new way of reading the Hebrew scriptures. They came to believe that Jesus was the climax of the Old Testament story; he was the one the whole story had been leading up to. And because they believed that, they loved to look for hints of Jesus in the Old Testament passages. Some of the hints they point to seem fanciful to us, but it was all part of their belief that Jesus was the true Word of God, the highest revelation of God to us, and that the whole story up until then had been pointing to him.

So they took their cue from Jesus praying the first verse of this psalm on the cross, and they looked for other hints of his story in there. When they read the psalmist saying, ‘O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest’ (v.2), they thought of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying that God would take this cup of suffering away from him – and not getting what he prayed for. When they read, ‘All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads”’ (v.7), they thought of the soldiers mocking Jesus, putting the crown of thorns on his head and dressing him in a purple robe to taunt him. They thought of the chief priests saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him’”’ (Matthew 27:42). When they read ‘They pierce my hands and my feet’ (v.16 BAS), they thought of Jesus on the cross with the nails through his hands and feet. And they remembered how the soldiers divided his clothes between them and threw dice for his seamless outer robe, and they read, ‘they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots’ (v.18).

Old Testament scholar John Goldingay explains that this psalm isn’t a prophecy in the sense that someone wrote it thinking “One day there will be a Messiah and all these things will happen to him”. This is a prayer for Israelites to pray when they need to – it gives them permission to acknowledge their sense that God has abandoned them. But it’s also one of the most horrifying prayers in the Book of Psalms, so it’s not surprising that when the Messiah comes – and goes through excruciating suffering and a sense that God has abandoned him – this is the prayer that comes to his lips.

Goldingay goes on to point out a really important truth. Of course, Jesus wasn’t abandoned by God in the sense that God wasn’t present at the Cross. God was there all right; that’s why Jesus prayed to him! You can’t address someone who has wandered off out of earshot! God is watching as Jesus is executed; God is suffering as deeply in his spirit as Jesus is suffering. And maybe more. It’s hard to imagine the depth of agony involved in watching your son be executed when you could stop it. But God doesn’t stop it. God listens to Jesus asking, “Why have you forsaken me?” and does nothing. God’s forsaking Jesus doesn’t lie in going away, but in being present and seeming to do nothing.

So many people feel they’ve experienced that! They’ve gone through awful suffering, and all the while God was sitting in heaven, knowing what was going on, and doing nothing to stop it. How could he do that?

We can attempt to give a rational answer to this question, which is good as far as it goes. We can say, “God has set up the world in such a way that people’s decisions are really free. He doesn’t make wood hard when we build houses with it, but soft when people want to use it to hit other people. He wants to teach us to truly love him, and so he can’t compel us to obey him”.

All of which is true, but it tends not to help people who are hanging on the Cross, or being unjustly persecuted, or dying of terminal illnesses. They want a sense that God is with them in their suffering. Why does he seem so far away?

And that’s the difference the Incarnation makes. Of course, we’re limited by human language; we’ve been talking about Jesus hanging on the Cross and the Father as a separate entity altogether, watching on the sidelines. But St. Paul changes the language a bit: “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19). Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three in one and one in three. God was not separate from Jesus on the Cross. Jesus is God, and in Jesus God was suffering too.

And this was not something that just started on Good Friday. Throughout the whole of Jesus’ life, he had been identifying with us in our sufferings. Think for a moment of the many and varied sufferings he experienced. As an infant he was the target of Herod’s death squads and had to run to Egypt as a refugee with his family. He grew up in a working-class family and experienced the same economic pressures we all go through. He seems to have lost his earthly father at a very young age, so he was no stranger to the pain of bereavement. He was misunderstood by his family – they even accused him of being out of his mind. He went through hunger, thirst, tiredness, and homelessness. He was betrayed by a friend, subjected to a mock trial, stripped, flogged and nailed to a cross where he died one of the cruelest deaths human beings have ever devised.

Crucifixion was a terrible form of death. The fact that the sufferer was suspended by the arms would force the rib cage open and make it very difficult to breathe; in fact, the only way to do so would be to push oneself up on the nail through one’s feet, and it is easy to imagine the unspeakable agony this would cause. Eventually the sufferer would be too weak to do this, and then death would come, not so much from loss of blood as from asphyxiation.

Jesus has gone through all of this, and God has gone through it in him. As the writer to the Hebrews says, ‘For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are…’ (Hebrews 4:15). In Jesus, God has allowed himself to be subjected to all the pain and suffering that his creation experiences. And this knowledge that God has firsthand experience of human suffering can be an incredible comfort to us.

In 1967, at the age of seventeen, Joni Eareckson broke her neck in a diving accident, and she has been a quadriplegic ever since. For the first few months she was in the depths of despair; she was often tempted to abandon her Christian faith or even to attempt suicide. But she was not even able to kill herself, because she was immobilized in a Stryker frame with absolutely no control over any of her bodily functions.

But then one day it occurred to her that Jesus knew exactly how she felt. After all, when he was nailed to the Cross he also lived in constant pain and lost the ability to move. This realization was a turning point in her attitude toward what had happened to her. It was still a long struggle, but she no longer felt alone. She felt that Jesus is ‘Emmanuel’ – ‘God with us’.

So we don’t have a God who is far removed from our sufferings. We have a God who has chosen to make himself vulnerable and suffer with us. We could even go so far as to say, we have a God who has chosen to make himself vulnerable and suffer at our hands. Humanity’s anger and hatred and rejection was poured out on God on the Cross. God knows what it’s like to be rejected, brutalized, tortured, and unjustly murdered. He’s experienced it from humans just like us.

Edward Shillito was a pastor in England during the First World War, and he was haunted by the sufferings of the hundreds of thousands of wounded soldiers returning to England with shattered bodies and traumatized minds. But he found comfort in the thought that the risen Jesus was still able to show his disciples the scars of his crucifixion. It inspired him to write his poem ‘Jesus of the Scars’. In it he talks about how a pain-free God is no comfort to those who are suffering. To humans who are scarred by the physical and emotional scars of trench warfare, only a God with scars of his own can comfort them. The last verse goes like this:

The other gods were strong, but thou wast weak;
They rode, but thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but thou alone.