My wife, Christy, teaches Kindergarten at St. Michael’s Episcopal School in the Bon Air neighborhood of Richmond.
A few weeks ago she had to break the news to her headmaster that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. The good news is (because she goes for an annual mammogram) her doctor caught it early. Christy was reassured that a little bit of surgery and some follow-up radiation would do the trick. And so, on October 2, she had a “little bit” of surgery. She has spent the last three weeks recovering and getting ready for radiation treatments, scheduled to begin today.
When she got to school this morning she found that everyone at St. Michael’s was wearing pink as a sign of support, and during chapel everyone was invited to join in a prayer for Ms. Somerville. A few of the children put their hands on her shoulders, and then everybody tried to get in on the action, leaning forward, reaching out toward a beloved teacher.
Christy told me her hands were busy wiping away tears.
At church lately I’ve been asking people what life in the Kingdom looks like, and wondering if it is that place where we bear one another’s burdens, and wash one another’s feet, and forgive one another’s sins. When I saw this picture my own question was answered. What does life in the Kingdom look like?
It looks like this, like that place where children wear pink and say prayers for their teacher.
May that Kingdom come everywhere, and not only at St. Michael’s School.
Today was the Third Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Joy.
A group of International students from VCU had been invited to light the Advent candle. They processed slowly down the aisle as the Youth Girls’ Ensemble sang. They mounted the steps and gathered around the Advent wreath. They held the lit taper to the pink candle and we all watched and waited for the wick to catch flame.
It didn’t happen.
I don’t know that I’ve ever felt so much suspense in church. I kept watching, willing the wick to catch. The student who was holding the taper seemed to have it in just the right place, but even so another student reached up to help. They adjusted the flame, moved it ever so slightly back and forth, but no matter what they did they couldn’t seem to get it to work. Finally, the song ended, and they had to step down from the chancel, the pink candle still unlit.
It seemed shockingly symbolic, that on a day when most of us were still grieving over the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the candle of joy wouldn’t stay lit, almost as if God himself were saying, “How can the flame of joy dance on its wick on a day like this?”
Maybe those students didn’t fail. Maybe they lit the candle over and over again and God kept snuffing it out, whispering, “No, not today.”
You can’t really schedule joy, and unfortunately you can’t really schedule grief. It comes when it comes. And it came today:
The Third Sunday of Advent.