Friday after Epiphany, January 8
“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.
“‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’
“And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.
“‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’
June, Comically Photogenic
June was Mrs. Vera’s younger sister, and that made her good people in my book from the start. The girls and their parents had relocated from the Piedmont to Wilmington during World War II. There was work in the old Revolutionary War port city. Look for the marker at the corner of Shipyard and Carolina Beach Road that indicates more than 200 Liberty ships were put to sea from the Wilmington shipyard. The war helped to bring an end to the Great Depression, and jobs in Wilmington helped St. Matthew’s grow.
June graduated from New Hanover High in 1947, got married, and had three children. Her husband was killed in a car wreck and left her the widowed mother of three little kids. June didn’t lose her faith and pushed through the adversity. When you think about how much whining goes on today about stupid stuff, you understand why June’s peers were known as the Greatest Generation. They did the next right thing.
If you have never been a single parent, you can’t imagine how lonely it can be. When there’s been a divorce, the custodial parent and visitation parent situation often ends up being either “Santa Claus and the Old Witch” or “Ms. Santa Claus and the Old Warlock.” One parent gets most of the responsibility and the laying down of the law, while the other gets to be playmate and gift giver. It’s a hard row to hoe. When you are the widowed parent, you are usually struggling financially, lonely, dealing with your own grief and that of your children, and stretched in nineteen directions at once. Again, June did the work and got her kids raised up right. All three turned out to be hard-working responsible folks.
The last twenty-nine years of her life, June was married to Francis Xavier, which if you’re paying attention means he was a cradle Roman Catholic. He was a Yankee, and she had that old time accent that is rapidly disappearing from Wilmington, a soft Southern tone with occasional British inflections. They laughed a lot, and you could tell they loved each other. His knees were so badly bowed that when he finally had knee replacements Frank remarked: “Look at me. I’ve gotten taller since my surgeries.”
I was visiting in their home one day when they were shut-in. I brought the Blessed Sacrament, and we had a pleasant afternoon together. Frank told me to look on the refrigerator door. When I looked, there was one of those traffic camera shots of June running a traffic light in town. He said, “I told her she ought to take it down, but she thinks it’s the funniest thing she ever saw.”
I had to laugh, mostly at myself, because on one of my many whirlwind trips in from our rent house in Kure Beach, I ran through the “pink” light at 17th and South College Road. When the photo card came in the mail, I was not amused, and she who must be obeyed was even less so. That $50 fee turned out to be all the deterrent I needed to keep from rushing through a yellow light at that intersection. When we take our daughter to school these days, I always remember June’s camera and pay close attention to the light.
There is a season for everything, and June’s life came to an end suddenly. Her older sister, Mrs. Vera, widowed in retirement, lived another six years after her baby sister but not before burying her dear daughter Brenda. June’s sadness and greatest struggles came when she was young and Vera’s when she was older and more vulnerable. The weight of grief grows heavier with each loss and, by the time you have buried most of the people you have loved in this world, you are so ready to go to glory.
After the winter solstice and the celebration of the birth of Jesus, the Light of the world, the days begin to grow longer little by little. We are grateful for a little more daylight each afternoon. Then, before we know it, Daylight Savings Time has returned just before the vernal equinox and our celebration of our Lord Jesus’ resurrection. These are not just coincidental celebrations or the baptizing of the annual cycle of nature. Rather, hardwired into creation is our recognition of the One through whom all things are made. We’re not trapped on the wheel of time but are moving towards the Day of the Lord and His new creation.
Thank you, dear heavenly Father, for Your Son Jesus, who is the Light shining in the darkness of all our griefs and sorrows. Thank you for June and the gift to laugh at ourselves. In Jesus’ holy name. Amen.
Place forty-one pennies, nickels, or dimes in a bowl or box out of love for neighbors in need.
Pastor Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
St Matthew's Evangelical Lutheran Church
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.