Good Bye, Sweet Luke
"The table is the Lord's, not the Church's; all are welcome to receive." With these words Fr. Jim would invite all present to the Communion table at St. John's in Waterbury. If you were there, you were in. We are all God's children. It was simple--as it should be.
With those words every Sunday Luke would make his way with his trusted friend Jo to the Communion rail, and he would receive the host right alongside her. Then, the two faithful friends would make their way back to their place in the front pew--and anyone and everyone who walked by them on that path to the table would greet them with warmth, affection, and the beautiful confidence of men, women, and children who knew the feelings were mutual.
Luke was Jo's service dog for many years after he had been her son Mike's service dog. Somewhere in the Service Dog Rule Book it says these companions are not pets, but Luke never read up to that page, and Jo is not one to dwell on foolish, unnecessary details. So we did the pet thing, and it was good.
Together this loving duo invited countless individuals into the church.
About five years ago, I was one of those people. At that point, I was unsure of churches, of the presumptions that package themselves as love, of the genuineness of people generally, of the exact nature of friendship. Still, at that stage, I felt an obligation to my daughter to bring her to church for her own sake, but I was going through the motions. But then there were Jo and Luke and all that warmth and fuzz and the smiles the way dogs smile and dog people who totally get what dogs can do smile. They were the heart and soul of safety, no strings attached. I was welcome to receive, and I received.
This year on Easter Sunday, I watched parishioners and visitors file past Luke. So many children pet him without asking because kids get it. One small child, already an Easter regular we never see any other time of year, gave Luke her bunny ears; he wore them and smiled. I watched one boy, a ten-year-old old soul, pet Luke and look into his eyes and see his spirit.
After the service, I watched Luke during the coffee hour celebration. People who never made eye contact and might never make contact laid hands on Luke and connected with each other as well as him in the warm, wordless way that dogs make possible. They knew the grace of God in the fur made warm by the beating heart of a beautiful being. My heart trembled as I watched God at work.
Last Saturday, Luke died in Jo's arms. He had lung cancer as well as back trouble, but he found succor in the arms of his dearest friend as he took his last breaths in this world. Our world is less without Luke. Much less.
It must be that way. We must, must, must feel this loss. Please God, let our aching hearts teach us to welcome as he welcomed, to trust as he trusted, to give as he gave, to love as he loved.
Indeed, may we love as Luke loved. Sweet Jesus, let it be. May we follow him to the table.
Fr. Jim's blog post is here.
Fr. Jim's blog post is here.