It is the season of last things. There are final papers, final presentations, final grades and gatherings; cake and cookies and the obligatory red punch of all ministry meaningful and otherwise, laughter and the blessed goodness of a long exhale.
I look across the chapel in the School of Theology, a holy place, an altar in my own pilgrimage, a place where I heard God and the place where I found my own voice, the place which is home now to our graduates stuffed into the hard wooden pews of the first four rows. Light pours in through the stain glassed windows and dances on the golden tassels and the deep scarlet, the bold, velvet fiber of theology.
I look at them all there, starry eyed and filled with dreams of what will come, they have finished strong. They have given themselves over to process, to critique, they have dared to ask the hard questions of faith, they have gone without sleep and gone without pay and lived on ramen noodles and coffee for years, they have pressed on and through. They are poets and prophets and priests; they are called and equipped and educated; they are baby birds ready to fly.
I think about how I had sat on these benches myself, years before with Julie Beam Kurrle, bright blue eyes, heart on fire. She and I and others had sat here and awaited our own scarlet hoods and diplomas. Fierce and bright, Julie had led our community well during her tenure in seminary; she helped us raise issues of justice, launch an Hispanic outreach and championed the fight against the devil’s own swinging door in the ladies restroom.
After graduation we had all gathered to pray and lay hands on Julie, her husband Norberto and the one hundred year old suburban supposed to carry them to their God born mission in South America. In Paraguay they would serve the church and children and lead the way in radio ministry.
Today we celebrate our graduates and at the same time grieve the loss of Julie, one of our own, who was lost along with her young son in a car accident a few days prior. Hearts are broken as Julie and her precious boy are gone from us too soon, though we stand here today in the bright glow of her life a beacon of light and hope for so many across the world.
Though there is much to be concerned for when we think about the future of the Church; confessions to make, relationships to reconcile, hearts to examine, there is today a room filled with reasons to believe and stories of miracles ringing out from the lives of those who have gone before.
I think about Julie and Norberto Kurrle; I think about all those who have graced this sacred space. I think about these good women and men who sit before me now; these who are mothers and wives, husbands and brothers, fathers and aunts and they are for me, hope personified. In their hard won journey, in the muddy path of their uphill climb, God has come near and love has leaned in to look at us square in the eye as if to say, “Hold on, help is on the way.”