Today I would like to share a memory of my father with you and in doing so, reflect on something very important to us all.
I suppose I was no more than six or seven years old when this happened, I couldn't have been too much older than my son is now... I remember that I had just begun elementary school and my mother and father had only recently divorced. It was winter, snowing, bitter cold, and school had been cancelled for the day. Dad was driving me to my grandparents where they would keep me while he was at work, but for some reason he first had to stop in at the Singer Store where he was employed at that time... The store was in the Danville Manor Shopping Center and when we arrived it was so early that the sun was not yet up and there wasn't a single car in the whole parking lot. There was nearly four inches of snow on the ground and the lot spread before Dad's old station wagon like the Kansas plains. In the pre dawn it was a sea of white tinged with cool blue. It had yet to be touched by a single tire track as we were the first to pull in to it... I can still see the way the lamp posts made little oasis of yellow light in long rows around the perimeter. It was quiet and very beautiful and Dad stopped the car at the entrance and we just sat looking out at it for a few moments, neither of us speaking.
My father turned to me with an odd expression on his face, a look that was filled with mischief. He floored the gas pedal of the old wagon and we accelerated rapidly into the big blank space. As I was just starting to get nervous about how fast we were going, and the fact that we were running out of parking lot, Dad slammed both feet hard to the brake and turned the wheel rapidly to the right. The ford wagon began to spin like Dorothy Hamill! I had firm hold on the arm rest of the passenger side door because this was back in the time before car seats, back when kids weren't too good to go flying through windshields like everyone else. I was shrieking at the top of my voice, frightened. Dad was yelling the top of his voice, exhilarated. The car slid to a stop. I'm quiet... Dad's quiet... The engine idles and I can hear my pulse roaring in my ears. Dad is staring straight at me with that same look of mischief on his face, waiting patiently for me to downshift from fear to joy. It didn't take long. In no time we were both laughing in each others faces and I said to him what little boys have been saying to father's since the beginning of the world. "Do it again Daddy!"
"Do it again."
And he did. For what seemed like forever we crisscrossed the lot, engine roaring, snow flying, Dad laughing, me laughing and crying! By the time it was over I doubt there was a three foot section that was untouched by our fun. I've often thought that from above the lot probably looked like the biggest abstract painting in history. A football field of black and white circles and long smudged lines... I'm sure it was beautiful from above... I'm sure that joy is always beautiful when viewed from above.
That laughter on that snow day, that mixture of fear and joy and fun, that moment with my father, it all came flooding back into my mind a little over thirty years later when I had my own little boy. He was only just entering the toddler phase when I picked him up off the floor one day and began to tickle him and spin him around like a little top on the hardwood floor. He was laughing and after a few moments he began to be frightened and I put him down so he could catch is breath. I looked into his face with the same mischievous look that my father gave to me so many years ago. Waiting for the fear to evaporate and be replaced by joy. And sure enough, there it was, a big grin, laughter, and my son said at the top of his little voice, "Do it again Daddy, do it again!"
"Do it again."
And we did. We did it again and again. Bouncing between the emotional response of fear and joy... Laughing. Laughing together the whole time at the fun of life. This is what we do, isn't it? That is life, isn't it? Does it ever really change? Do we ever not know fear? And even as we grow old and face greater suffering (and yes, even death) are we not rewarded and armed with joy, laughter and love that is ever equal to it? Do we not, even in the face of the worst suffering that life throws at us... Do we not always say, "Do it again?"
There is a bigger picture of all this. There is a greater Father and Son story that can be seen here. There is a Father who is in Heaven who brings us life and love and joy, and yes, in this world of His, there is also fear and there is also death. And if we are wise, even when faced with the most difficult suffering, we still laugh and we love and we do it all over again. Because the joy is worth it. The laughter is worth it. The love is worth it.
Sometimes, we loose our way. The fear comes upon us and it squeezes out the joy and we find it hard to laugh. Our Father who is in Heaven knows this about us so he did something two thousand years ago that we should all never forget. He put his only Son into this world of laughter, joy, suffering and pain. He allowed his only Son to experience all that is life in this world. The exhilaration of love and joy and also the suffering of death. And what joy his Son was given! A personal relationship with a father who was God Almighty... And what suffering he knew... Torture and crucifixion at the hands of his fellow man. And yet, in the end, life, and joy and love overcome even that pain. Life and love and joy trump even death. For that Son rose up even from death itself and was rewarded with eternal joy, eternal life, and eternal love... He rose up to do it all again. Forever.
"...To do it again... Forever."
This story is hard for some to believe. I confess, that there have been times in my life that it has been hard for me to believe it too... But even at my worst moments, when doubt and confusion reigned, I have only ever doubted the facts of the story, I have never, ever, doubted "The Truths" revealed by the story. I have never doubted that life and love and joy are stronger than death. I have never doubted that God is life. God is Love and God is Joy. I hope that none of you will ever doubt that, because I believe that that faith is all that we really have. That such faith is what sustains us in times like these, times when we endure loss, and pain and death. Faith will help us when we have to do something like this again...
When we come together to do this again.
I love all of you very much. I am grateful to all of you who have come here today to remember my beloved father who is gone from this world, and gone into the next. And I am grateful that we have had this time together to remember and reflect upon our shared Father who is the Creator and Sovereign of this world...
And of the Next.