by the Rev. Hal Chorpenning
Being part of a congregation makes each of us aware of the transitions of life: births, baptisms, confirmations, graduations, marriages, retirements, and deaths. Being an intentional part of a community of faith exposes us to the exigencies of what it means to be alive. Just by being engaged during Prayers of the People in worship, we tend to hear about and pray for more people experiencing illness or loss than many of our neighbors do.
We are in a time of passage for three of our members: John Geter, Ruth Minter, and George Bryan, for whose lives we offer God thanks with the rites of the church, helping provide a ritual marker at the close of this life. Jake led John Geter’s memorial service on March 30, and I hope that you will join us for memorial services for Ruth Minter this Saturday at 11:00 a.m. and for George Bryan on Holy Saturday at 11:00 a.m.
When Jane Anne and I arrived in Tokyo at the end of March, a few cherry blossoms were just beginning to emerge from the buds on early-blossoming trees. Viewing the cherry blossoms is a major celebration in Japan called hanami, which dates back centuries when the aristocracy would have viewing parties that included food and drink under the white-and-pink canopy of blossoms. While today thousands crowd into parks and picnic under the trees on blue plastic tarps, the spirit of hanami remains.
A woman we met in Tokyo explained the Japanese fascination with cherry blossoms. “The blossoms are with us for only a short time each spring,” she explained. “They burst into bloom and very quickly, they fade, and their petals fly like snow. The cherry blossoms for us are like looking at life: we are born, we live, and we die. It is all part of the process.”
We had wonderful travels around Japan with my son, Cameron, and got to spend a few days with him and his wonderful girlfriend, Aki Regan, in Akita Prefecture, where they both teach English. We returned to Tokyo as we concluded our two weeks in Japan, and by then many of the trees were a profusion of pinkish blossoms, though some trees had begun to lose their floral array. As the wind came up, the blossoms swirled through the air like so many large snowflakes, and I felt a sense of melancholy rising up as the season was drawing to a close. I was standing in Yanaka Cemetery in Tokyo when I filmed the video clip below, so the end of life was already present in this place of beauty and remembrance.
Our own tradition, though without hanami, acknowledges the transitory nature of life. The first hymn in the New Century Hymnal, “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise,” contains these lines: “We blossom and flourish as leaves and as flowers, then wither and perish – but naught dims your powers.” The nature of life is indeed transitory. And our tradition also tells us that in the midst of every transition, the power of God and companionship of the Spirit are within and among us. “In life, in death, in life beyond death, we are not alone,” says the New Creed from the United Church of Canada.
As we move into spring in Colorado, and as we walk through the pattern of Holy Week, going from the triumph of Palm Sunday to tragedy of Good Friday to the triumph of Easter, may we each remember that death is never God’s final word. Thanks be to God.
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning has been Plymouth's senior minister since 2002. Before that, he was associate conference minister with the Connecticut Conference of the UCC. A grant from the Lilly Endowment enabled him to study Celtic Christianity in the UK and Ireland. Prior to ordained ministry, Hal had a business in corporate communications. Read more about Hal.