Memorial Celebration for the life of Christopher Henry Mills
September 15, 2017
In the scripture reading we just heard, Jesus is trying to comfort his disciples.
He’s getting them ready for his departure.
Getting them ready for his death.
‘I am preparing a place for you,’ he says. ‘A place with me. A place with God.’ It all sounds good. Pretty solid. A promise. An assurance. A comforting sound bite.
But Thomas isn’t buying it. Well, at least not yet. Thomas, famous for doubting his friends’ story of Jesus’ resurrection, needs more information. More clarity. Because none of this passes his own internal ‘makes sense’ test.
I totally relate to that, and for that reason, Thomas is one of the heroes of my faith. Because what Thomas knew . . . and what I believe . . . is that faith without questions is a lie.
Chris believed this as well.
Maybe you didn’t know, but Chris was a student of theology;
a thinker, a doubter, a questioner.
It made him the perfect lawyer. And I totally respected it, and connected with that.
And until I met Chris, it would have been hard for me to imagine how questions could ever serve as the foundation for anything, but frankly, it was the questions of faith that formed the foundation of our relationship.
He never seemed to mind that tension, between questioning and faith. Actually, I think he probably relished it. Because Chris knew what the mystics know – that the experience of God is one of BOTH falling into an abyss of unknowing, while simultaneously being completely grounded. And while Chris would have NEVER described himself as a mystic – the last few years of his life, he experienced that abyss and that foundation. In the last few years of life, he experienced God.
Nothing opened that up as much as his transplant did. As you all know, after rounds of chemotherapy and other treatments, it came time for Chris to be put on the list for a stem cell transplant. He needed a match, of course, so he – and Rosemary, who was constantly by his side – waited, and waited. And that waiting wasn’t a passive waiting either. It was filled with pain, uncertainty and profound suffering. More than anything I could imagine. But then the day finally came when the perfect match – an exact match - was found. As the cells were transported (I believe, from Canada) to Hackensack, Chris’ team was ready. And finally, in walked the transplant doctor with the bag of cells, millions and millions of them in this one, unremarkable bag . . .
and we all knew that ‘life’ had entered the room.
Those cells were both a symbol of creation – the very beginning of life, itself – and they were also a sign of resurrection, of new life.
Appropriately enough, transplant day is known as Day 0, the day when life’s count starts over and begins anew.
We all recognized this, and asked the doctor to give us just a minute or so to say a prayer over the cells, which we did – holding hands, laying hands on the cells themselves, and praying along with the nurses and doctors in the room.
And with that, the Dr. hung the bag and hooked them up to the infusion pump.
The incredible beauty of that moment was that we were experiencing God. The unknowable abyss: the questions, the doubts, the fear, the unknowing; and it was also the foundation of God: creation, re-creation, resurrection.
And it showed me, and Chris, the answer to Thomas’ question. “How can we know the way?” The way to God? Well, the way is life.
Resurrection is such that it is both the foundation of our faith and the mystery of our faith, and Chris wasn’t afraid to name them both. I can’t even tell you how profoundly grateful I am for knowing him. And because of Chris, my foundation is stronger, the abyss is deeper, and I have had a glimpse of the Way. The Truth. And the Life. Amen.