Unbound!

Meditation on John 11, selected verses

In Memory of Patricia Sartain

Pastor Karen Crawford

First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, NY

Oct. 22, 2022

The yellow sweetheart roses were in a vase on the dining room table when I visited Tom on Tuesday. It was the 18th of the month—the special day he always celebrated with his wife, Pat, with the gift of a yellow rose and words of love scrawled on a florist card.

She kept all the cards he had ever given her with the roses—one every month, faithfully.

The yellow rose never lost its meaning—love. A love that never ends.

She was the pretty girl in the pink dress. Tom noticed her at his cousin Margit’s sister’s wedding. Do I have that right? He liked the way she held her head up high when she walked. Tall. Poised. He was so relieved to discover she wasn’t married—as he first thought. She was cousin Margit’s best friend.

Somehow, soon after that, Tom ended up riding with Pat to a music camp in New Hampshire for a 3-day weekend. She drove. A five-year-old nephew, Steven, served as the chaperone that weekend, going along with them on what could have been a romantic boat ride, if Steven hadn’t come.

Still, love was in the air. Pat lost the garnet setting from her ring that weekend. She told Tom later that she saw it as a sign the ring would soon be replaced. Tom was in law school, had no money, and was $10,000 in debt when $10,000 was a lot of money. He went back to his life after that wonderful weekend with Pat and little Steven in New Hampshire. Pat was with Tom when he graduated from law school. He passed the bar exam, but he hadn’t made up his mind, yet, about his plans for the future.

What day it was when he realized that his plans needed to include Patricia, he doesn’t recall. He proposed near the fireplace at Peter’s Back Street Pub on Jan. 9, 1978. She had already decided that if he didn’t propose by Feb. 18, she was going to dump him. They had been dating for 2 years, and she was a year older than Tom. She had a good job and was ready to settle down.

“Yes!” she said. “Yes. Yes.” And maybe she added, “What took you so long?”

They were married in the church in which she was raised, where her grandparents were founding members – Community Church of Little Neck. It was August 18, 1979. She was 31. He was 30. Pat, a gifted seamstress, sewed all the bridesmaids’ dresses for their wedding.

She had other gifts, too, nurtured from childhood. She had sung in choirs since she was 7.  She shared her alto voice in Christmas Cantatas and played bells, learning in a “Genesis” handbell choir for beginners. She loved the camaraderie of choral groups.

She also had beautiful penmanship and was a good cook and hostess, knowing how to plan and organize meals for large crowds. She set the most beautiful table settings for special days, planning every detail down to the tablecloths and serving dishes. You would not find a ketchup bottle on her table.

She was a perfectionist. She was creative, stubborn, headstrong. She was “spirited,” Tom says.

She was a good public speaker. She wrote out and gave speeches for Eastern Star chapters and Grand Sessions in Buffalo, Syracuse, Lake Placid. She served in various leadership positions for the organization, including District Deputy. One year, she traveled to Scotland with her father to represent New York State Eastern Star.

Pat and Tom came to First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown in 1984, when the Rev. Bill Edwards was pastor. Their 3-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, born on Feb. 18, 1981, had been attending the Co-op preschool at the church. Pat served on the Co-op preschool board. They met other members through the school—and eventually made the church their worship home. They attended 9 o’clock services and brought their two children—Elizabeth and Thomas, born in 1983, to Sunday school.

 Because of Pat’s family history with the church in Little Neck that her grandparents founded, she kept her membership in the church of her childhood. That didn’t stop her from strong involvement with her new church family. She sang with the choirs, rang bells, taught Sunday School and music and art for VBS.  She was a counter with Adele and Harold Carson and Ruth Bosch. She loved to arrange flowers and was in the Flower Guild with Michelle DiGiacomo, Betty Deerfield, and Virginia Newcomb. She was active in supporting the Adopt an Angel program. She was a member of the Highlanders. The group would put on a social event once a month, including the Burns Supper in January. The family attended 3 worship services on Christmas Eve because of her participation in the ministry of music. They hosted a wassailing party between the 9 and 11 o’clock services.

She was a hard worker, generous with her time.

If I had to choose which biblical figure in the Mary and Martha stories who was closest to Pat Sartain, I would have to say she was probably more like the take-charge Martha. She was the one who organized the dinner for Jesus and his disciples, in contrast with her quiet, contemplative sister Mary, content to be still and sit at the Master’s feet.

Martha isn’t shy about sharing her disappointment with Jesus in our passage today, when he arrives several days after she has sent a note requesting that he return to Bethany, where she, Mary and their younger brother Lazarus lived. Lazarus, “the one whom Jesus loved,” as Martha wrote in her note, was gravely ill. She speaks plainly with Jesus. She doesn’t mince her words. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”

Jesus answers, “Your brother will rise again.” 

He had taught them about the resurrection of the dead “on the last day.”  Martha assumes he is only offering her hope for what is to come, in the fullness of time, when all who had died were made alive, again, for eternity. She isn’t prepared for him to say, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.

“Do you believe this?”  he asks.

She responds, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

This passage on the raising of Lazarus reveals a God who shares in our sorrows. We hear how Jesus wept when he sees the family grieving for Lazarus, and how he is “troubled,” though he knows what will happen when he prays to God and calls out the deceased man’s name. This is the God who comforts us and can handle our anger and disappointment. The God who will embrace and strengthen us with divine love and forgiveness and the promise of life everlasting as we open our hearts to receive it.

There’s a surprising part to this passage, for me, at the end. Jesus invites the community of faith to participate in the raising of Lazarus. Christ doesn’t need any help in freeing Lazarus from his graveclothes to begin his new life after being in the tomb for an astounding four days. Christ could have done it all by himself. But he chooses not to. Instead, he makes the task of unbinding the work of the faith community.

As Lazarus comes out of the tomb, Jesus says, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

This is our calling right now, as a family of believers, offering love to help the grieving family bear this burden of sorrow, reminding them that they do not walk this way alone. We, too, will help carry the load, just as Christ shed tears for Lazarus with the grieving community, even when he knew that death wouldn’t have the last word.

We have the power to grab hold of and take off the graveclothes of sin and negativity that can so easily surround us and weigh us down. We have the power to live as Resurrection people, set free to change the world by witnessing to our faith in a risen Savior and live UNBOUND.

On Tuesday, Tom’s hand trembled as he held the cards he had given Pat every month—always on the 18th—the day they met, the day she was going to dump him if he didn’t propose, the day they were married, the day their daughter Elizabeth was born. He held the tiny cards in his hands on the 18th of October and was comforted by her act of keeping them, and his faithfulness in giving them. The yellow rose never lost its meaning, nor did the words scrawled on florist cards. The meaning was love.

Dear friends, the cross and empty tomb will never lose their meaning for us. The meaning is love. We are loved with a love that never ends.

Let us pray.  Holy One, we thank you for the hope of our resurrection with Christ and the power of your Spirit to overcome the sin of this world through forgiveness and kindness. Stir us to loosen the graveclothes that so easily surround us and take hold of our new life in Jesus Christ—UNBOUND. Thank you for your love that never ends. In the name of our Triune God we pray. Amen.

Published by karenpts

I am the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, New York on Long Island. Come and visit! We want to share God’s love and grace with you and encourage you on your journey of faith. I have served Presbyterian congregations in Minnesota, Florida and Ohio since my ordination in 2011. I am a 2010 graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and am working on a doctor of ministry degree with Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I am married to Jim and we have 5 grown children and two grandchildren in our blended family. We are parents to fur babies, Liam, an orange tabby cat, and Minnie, a toy poodle.

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