“O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, / our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home!”
Today, especially today, we seek shelter from the stormy blast. Today, because Michael Collins is gone, a relationship it was hard to imagine we’d ever be without has ended. The stormy blast of loss both heightens and dulls our senses, and all we can do is hold on as wind and waves buffet our little boat. A son and step-son, brother, father, nephew and uncle, cousin, and dear friend has left us, and we seek shelter. One thing we’d love to have is any whisper of good news in which to rest from the storm.
Well, there is good news, and the good news of our faith is this: No matter how broken and lost we or others may seem to be, we are all – all of us – making the same journey home. The God in whom “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28), the God in whom all of life’s story is played out, holds all things together, even this, and is ushering all of us home.
The prophet Isaiah knew it more than 2,500 years ago, when the Jewish nation was defeated, broken, scattered, held captive by forces they could not understand. And it was then that Isaiah heard God speak of a transcendent hope; of bringing us home; of gathering us from the ends of the earth, from east and west, from north and south, from every place where life has scattered us, and bringing us home (Isa. 43:5-7).
There is no place we can be, no condition of life, where God is not. “Bidden or unbidden,” the psychologist Carl Jung said, “God is present.” Known or unknown, visible or invisible, recognized or unrecognized, affirmed or denied, God is – holding us, sustaining us, bringing us home.
St. Paul put it as well as anyone could when he described the good news of what God began doing in Jesus Christ and continues today. “In Christ,” he wrote, “God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us” (2 Cor 5:19). God began bringing everyone home, and nothing we can do – no sin, no brokenness, no waywardness, no mistakes or failures, no unintelligible wandering, no lostness nor foundness, nor gains nor losses – nothing can separate us from the reconciling love of God.
I don’t know what darkness Michael suffered, what struggles he endured. I know neither his strength nor his weakness, neither his triumphs nor his setbacks. What I believe with all of my being is that nothing can separate him from God’s love. I am convinced, with St. Paul, “that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate [Michael or any of] us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39).
When Jesus bade farewell to his friends on his last night with them, he promised to prepare a place for them in God’s house of many dwelling places, and he said he would come again and bring them home (John 14:2-3). The separation of death is not the end of the story. As Tolkien wrote, “the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.”
“For now we see in a mirror, dimly,” St. Paul wrote, “but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:12-13).
It’s the love that created us, the love that sustains and nurtures us through life, and the love that finally brings us home. It is not defeat that claimed Michael; it is love that claimed him and has carried him home. It’s the same love that claims all of us, that will sustain us through the rest of our lives, and that will finally bring us home with Michael and all of those who have gone before.