Today I paid a visit at our local retirement high rise. Here at church we refer to it as our south campus, what with a few dozen of our members living there. In the past five years I’ve come to think of it as the place where people I love have died. It’s a holy place, a sacred space.
It’s full of the quick and the dead, that place – our living saints (and a few curmudgeonly types) and ghosts, too, for me and I suspect for others. I walk by an apartment that used to belong to someone else. I take communion to folks on the nursing floor, and remember the overheated room where a saint experienced hospice care and left his earthly body.
I remember another saint whose husband died there, and her dismay when his body was taken out the back via the service elevator. When she died, in the same building but a different room, the gurney holding her mortal remains was wheeled proudly through the lobby and out the front while her children sang “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise.” I never hear that hymn without thinking of her.
My parents live in such a place in another state, and have long referred to it as “the last stop.” I am glad they are there, taken care of by staff as needs arise, since none of us kids lives anywhere near them. I remember when they first moved in how surprised they were that people kept dying. I did remind them, gently (I hope), that it is the last stop.
In those places there is often a fine line between the quick and the dead. Perhaps those places are thin, in the Celtic way, liminal places that contain both life and death.
I’m preaching this week about the story that took place on the road to Emmaus; that seven mile path was a thin place, liminal, a place of life and death. The resurrected Jesus appears to be both quick and dead. It’s a marvelous little story, and weird too, and there’s much to say about it and yet I find I want to say nothing about it, but simply to sit with it. Maybe hovering between life and death and hanging out with the saints will do that to you.