Read Part 1 here.
Read Part 2 here.
Read Part 3 here.
Read Part 4 here.
Read Part 5 here.
Read Part 6 here.
Read Part 7 here.
The casket was so small.
The crew had gathered for the ceremony. It didn’t matter that many of them were not Christian. They wanted to be there for the captain. For Mary.
“Do you have a verse you want me to use?” he’d asked.
“Gospel. Tell me what I need to hear. Gospel,” Mary had answered through tears.
It was spring here. Mary didn’t notice the budding green on the trees. The ground was muddy. Mary didn’t care about the muck clinging to her feet. The sky was blue. Mary glanced up and wished that Philia could have seen it, even once.
James read from the tablet in his hands, “The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid? When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war beak out against me, even then will I be confident.
“One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock. Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at his tabernacle will I sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the Lord.
“Hear my voice when I call, O Lord; be merciful to me and answer me. My heart says of you, ‘Seek his face!’ Your face, Lord, I will seek. Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger; you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, O God my Savior. Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me. Teach me your way, O Lord; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors. Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me, breathing out violence.
“I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take hart and wait for the Lord.”
James looked up from his tablet. He drew in a quavering breath. “Philia was born dead. She was spiritually stillborn. Only a few minutes after her birth, though, God brought her to life through his Word, tied to water. God kept his promise and drowned Philia’s sinful nature and raised her to life through Jesus. It was an act of grace, of undeserved love. And because of that forgiveness, because of that love, Philia is alive today. God answered the plea I just read. God did not hide his face from her. God did not reject her or forsake her. Jesus came for her. Jesus lived for her. Jesus died for her so that she could live forever. Yes, her body is here, but God has kept his promise. I am confident of this: She is seeing the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. God granted her faith to grasp the forgiveness he offers.”
Mary tried to listen. She knew she should. She knew it was the message of the Gospel. It was a message of hope.
She couldn’t even look at James. Her eyes were locked on the closed casket. She wanted to feel Philia’s weight against her chest again. She wanted to smell her hair. She wanted to hear her laugh. But it was gone. Instead, her chest was empty, she smelled the mud, and she heard only weeping.
She missed her daughter.
Vaguely, she heard James continue. “She wears a white robe, given by Jesus. He prepared the perfect garment of salvation for her by his own life, and he gave it to Philia. She’s still wearing it, and where she is no one will ever take it away from her.” James looked at Mary. “She’s with a Father who loves her and will wipe every tear from her eye.”
James swallowed. He raised his hands in blessing. “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you. The Lord look on you with favor, and give you peace. Amen.”
After a pause, he stepped forward to hug Mary. She leaned into him, grateful. He stepped away, keeping his hand on her shoulder, and gestured away. Away from the casket.
Mary nodded. It was time to go.
After James led Mary away, the crowd dispersed. Some went to what family they had left on Earth, others back to the ship. One figure remained. Trent stepped up to the casket. “I’m sorry. James talks about forgiveness like it’s easy. And maybe it’s easy to give, but it’s almost impossible to take. I failed your mom, and because of that I failed you.” He placed a hand on the wood paneling. “He says you’re happy now. I hope so.”
“She is.” Trent turned to see Paul behind him. “I came back, because I needed to say the same thing. I tried telling Mary to kill Philia. I was wrong.” He stepped through the mud to stand beside Trent. “I couldn’t even keep her alive long enough to get help.”
“You couldn’t make the ship go faster.”
“No, but I could have done something better.” His eyes searched the wooden surface before him. “Something.”
“You really think she’s in the – what did James call it? The Land of the Living?”
“She is. She was forgiven. I saw her baptized.” Paul’s eyes never left the casket.
“Were you baptized?”
“A long time ago, yes.”
“So shouldn’t you have the same comfort you’re telling me about her?”
Paul exhaled a sad chuckle. “What about you, Trent? Were you baptized?”
“Sure. My parents were into all that.”
“And are you ‘into all that’ now?”
“You a sinner, Trent?”
The larger man’s mouth twitched into a smile. “Yeah.”
“Did Jesus forgive you?”
“I’d say you’re forgiven then. I’m certain Philia would agree with Jesus on that one.”
Trent looked into the doctor’s face. “Take your own medicine, doc.”
Paul nodded. “I will. Once I ask Mary’s forgiveness.”
“That sounds fair.” Trent looked around. “Come on. Let’s get out of here. I’ll buy you a drink.”
Mary sat in her cabin. The makeshift crib was still there. The mobile. The diapers. The pacifiers. All the reminders of Philia.
James followed her gaze. “We don’t have to take them out. They can stay as long as you need.”
Mary swallowed. “Thank you.”
“For protecting me. Trent wouldn’t tell me who fired the shot that took out the man who… who attacked me. I had to piece it together myself from the reports. No one wanted me to know my pastor killed the man who attacked me.”
James looked down. “I should have been faster. I froze before I… before I fired.”
“I still have to remind myself every day that it wasn’t my fault. I have to force myself to look into a mirror and say that I still wear a robe of Jesus’ righteousness. I have many sins, but that was not one of them.” Mary looked up at her pastor. “It wasn’t your fault, either. They sinned against the crew. Against me. You have no blame here.”
“I know.” James leaned against the door frame. “Sometimes knowing a thing in your head and making your heart believe it is difficult.”
Mary nodded. “For whatever part you might have played, I forgive you.”
James whispered through tears, “Thank you.”
Their silence stretched.
James asked, “Now what?”
Mary pondered. “Now I grieve. Now I can look back. For over the last year, I’ve concentrated on Philia. I haven’t even really been able to grieve what happened to us out there. The others who died. They deserve their captain’s grief, too. I think I’m still in shock a little bit. It’s time…. It’s time to start that process of dealing with it. All of it.” She stood and wandered to the crib and picked up a lopsided stuffed bear. “And maybe, after we take on new crew to fill the holes in our roster, we head out again. If I stay here I might never go again.” Mary glanced over Philia’s things. “Besides, these will come with. Until I’m ready to set them aside.” Her hand passed over the railing on the crib. “But not until I forget. That can’t happen.”
“And no one will ask you to.” James rested a hand on the rail of the crib. “Jesus certainly won’t forget Philia. Why should we?”
“You’re going to have to deal with me crying more this time out.”
“It is never a burden to bear the burden of another.” James put a hand on Mary’s shoulder. “Our mourning is different. But that doesn’t mean we don’t mourn. Let your tears come. Know that you will meet Philia again, in a place where your Father will wipe every one of those tears away.”
Mary nodded. “And in the meantime, Psalm 27.”
James smiled. “Psalm 27.”
Read the Postscript here.