I’m writing this January 12, 2014 — the First Sunday after Epiphany.
January 12th was also the first Sunday after Epiphany in 1992. That is not something I would typically remember. But I certainly remember the phone call late that morning, about an hour after I got back from church.
It was my mom. “Mike?” she said, somewhat breathless, enough for me to reply, “Mom? What’s wrong?” For a brief second, I heard her inhale.
“Dad died this morning.”
From that second on, I think I remember everything about that day, even 22 years later.
The two-hour drive to my parents’ home was taken up mostly contemplating a sun-splattered winter sky, and listening mostly to a choral CD that the Christ Church Choir had done that previous year. One hymn was “Every Time I Hear The Spirit,” with a boisterous baritone solo: “The River Jordan, is muddy and cold; it chills the body, but not the soul…”
It was in that same River Jordan where, in today’s gospel from Matthew, Jesus felt that he heard the voice of the Father saying to him, “THIS is my Son…with whom I am well pleased.” It was a sentiment I felt from my father on just about every occasion I was with him, especially in my adult years. It was a sentiment that was now a memory.
By the time of my arrival mid-afternoon, a few close friends were already there. By early evening, our house had transformed into the warm, convivial, welcoming place I remembered growing up. All traces of the paramedics and their futile efforts to revive my dad after a sudden collapse were long gone. Many friends of my parents, of my sisters and of mine had arrived, dropping off the obligatory hams and fried chicken and casseroles, with most folks staying at least a while after my mom’s insistence. Lots of hugs, lots of misty eyes, and LOTS of funny stories about the funny life-loving man my father was.
By mid-evening, I had allowed myself to imbibe a few of my brother-in-law’s homemade beers, and ventured down to our basement to get more refreshments from the “extra fridge” down there.
All my Dad’s crap was down there in that basement. Every glance into every corner flashed back an agonizingly joyous memory that filled my soul.
And I just lost it. Sobs overwhelmed me, unlike any others, before or since. And THAT’S the moment that it hit me — an “epiphany” as profound as any I’ve ever had.
In the midst of this very private moment, during which I knew I had to somehow pull myself together before returning upstairs (but was in no particular hurry to do), a singular thought came to me, from Lord knows where. At some point in his earthly presence, Jesus must have lost his dad, too.
There is, of course, nothing in scripture that even hints at when or how or even if Joseph died, other than that good man’s complete absence from any narratives of Jesus as an adult. Regardless, in that one moment in the basement of my childhood home on the day my father had died, I had (or was I given?) the thought of how the central figure of Western Civilization, that person by whose life the world measures years, the Incarnate Word, Emmanuel, Messiah, Saviour to those of us who try to love him and live the belief that he was and is who he said he was… that man, that son of a carpenter, most likely experienced the reality with his mother that “Dad died.”
So the Epiphany that came 22 years ago today, one that I suppose I knew at some level but never really knew until then, is that we worship a God that wept, that mourned, that hurt, that knew what it was like to lose his human father.
Such knowledge does not take away the pain of such a loss, of course. But it does somehow seem to sanctify it. And in that process, it may just sanctify us as well. Enough at least to pull ourselves out of bed, put one foot in front of the other, to somehow feel that we are not in this pain alone.
Thanks be to God.