Today is gray and chilly, and raindrops are sliding down the window slowly, like tears. It is the last hour before dinner, and I am scrambling to write this post for Grace Table. My husband is traveling for work this week, and I left the sitter with the kids and a big pot of slowly thawing soup.
I had most of the day to work, a rare thing, but I spent it trying to write a memorial for my brother-in-law, my sister’s husband. This means I spent too much of the day with my head on the desk, disbelieving and grieved by the words I was typing out. The words are black and white and irrefutable, but writing them, reading them, feels like walking into an invisible wall. It’s a shock, and it hurts.
I am writing this on March 14. He died on this day exactly two months ago, but I don’t think any of us believe it, yet. Most of my mind and all of my heart is still waiting to hear that he has come home.
When a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, dies, we often say that he or she has “gone home.” But has he? Are we the homeless ones?
In 2 Corinthians, Paul writes, “… as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6). Paul, at least, “would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord,” and on a gray, teary day like this one, I think I know just what he means.
It seems there is a tension between our earthly body, a home of sorts, and our heavenly one. Until the day of resurrection, neither one is perfect. One day God will make his home with us, heaven will come to earth, and both will be complete.
I wrote an entire book about this earthly home of mine, a crumbling but beautiful old house called Maplehurst. Before we ever laid eyes on this place, we imagined a house for hospitality and welcome. I suppose, back then, I would have said our vision was of a table, heavy-laden, and everyone invited in. A house for celebration. A house for shared feasting.
I did not consider then these words of wisdom from Ecclesiastes: “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:2).
We have lived here nearly four years. We have feasted, and we have cried. I see now that we will go on crying. Some losses can never be erased. Some sorrows only grow. The shock will lessen, but the empty seat at the table will always be with us.
Yet we will go on feasting, too. Where the old wisdom of Ecclesiastes meets the new wisdom of the kingdom of Jesus we find this promise: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). In the house of mourning, the table is laid with comfort.
When my family gathers, the table is laid with that paragon of southern comfort, banana pudding. If I cast my mind back to the last family gathering before Shawn died, I see the men in my family still at the table and empty bowls smeared with pale yellow cream.
For those of you unfamiliar with southern banana pudding, please forget whatever flavors that name has brought to mind. The actual dish, while it does contain bananas, does not include banana pudding, and an instant pudding box with a banana on it would be a very big mistake.
I don’t make this very often, though it might be my husband’s favorite dessert. Our son is highly allergic to dairy, so banana pudding now tastes to us a little bittersweet. Perhaps this makes it the ideal comfort food for our house of mourning, caught, as it is, somewhere between heaven and earth.
If you cross this threshold, I will make it for you, and we will cry over the glass trifle bowl together. Perhaps we will cry for Shawn (because he was your husband, or Daddy, or friend). Or perhaps we will cry for some new sorrow (you lost your job, you can’t have a baby, your child can’t seem to get well). Even on the happier days, we will cry over newspaper headlines and stories of terrible but far-off pain.
Everyone’s grief is welcome in the house of mourning, whether neighbor or stranger. We will not bar our gates or close our door to your sorrow. Your unhappiness does not threaten our joy; in fact, it deepens our joy.
Like Paul, we have found that suffering is a privilege: “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24).
Those tears we drop over the banana pudding are never wasted. Because we are one with Christ, our tears are added to his suffering.
In this way, our own all-too-human tears become powerful enough to remake the world, defeat death, and hasten the coming of that day when every tear will be a fading memory.
- 1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk (NOT evaporated milk)
- 1 1/2 cups cold water
- 1 (4-serving size) package instant vanilla pudding mix
- 2 cups whipping cream, whipped
- 36 vanilla wafers (my sister Kelli prefers to use chessman cookies)
- 3 medium bananas, sliced and dipped in lemon juice
- In large bowl, combine sweetened condensed milk and water. Add pudding mix; beat well.
- Chill 5 minutes.
- Fold in whipped cream.
- Spoon 1 cup pudding mixture into 2 1/2 quart glass serving bowl. Top with one-third each of the cookies, bananas, and pudding.
- Repeat layering twice, ending with pudding. Chill.
- This is my mother's recipe, but its origins are obscure. She clipped it from a magazine decades ago.