As high school students, we all read this famous oxymoron from Shakespeare’s Romeo an Juliet without pausing to reflect on it, or perhaps—with some of us—a fleeting association with our own first experience of romantic love. But this phrase “sweet sorrow” describes exactly my feelings in parting from the Manakin family to which I have belonged for a year and a half.
There are feelings of sorrow because I will miss all of you and this wonderful spiritual place, even though we all remain together as God’s family in Christ no matter how far apart we are. I feel sorrow that I will not be present to see some of the work I have helped begin bear fruit. I will not witness to confirmation and adult classes presented to and confirmed by our bishop. I will not enjoy the growth and flowering of the new Christian Formation programs, and my collaboration with Julia and Becky. I will not see the church lit up at night presenting its charm and beauty to nighttime passerby who do not notice it during the day. I will not enjoy performing the marriage ceremony for our younger members and baptizing their children. I won’t be around to eat the hearty men’s breakfast or drink the altar guild’s tea. I could name other people and events I will miss, and the wonderful relationships I have formed with our staff members, (especially and Wendy and Rita), vestry members and others who have welcomed and worked with me so faithfully. I don’t know why Roy came all the way to Maryland to interview me, but I’m glad he did!
Now let me tell you some of the things that make the “sweet sorrow.” The church is described in the bible as the bride of Jesus Christ, and this image recalls the Old Testament analogy that Israel was the “wife” of Yahweh and even though she might be unfaithful, God would not forsake her. So in some ways, a priest’s relationship with his congregation is something like a marriage, with the same “period of adjustment” and “give and take” that a good marriage requires. Remember this when Gini is here as your new rector! Mutual respect, mutual effort, mutual support, in good times and in bad, are part of such a relationship, and I have enjoyed this with you. I am happy about our joint endeavors which will continue long after I am gone. The worship of choral evensong, the blessing of the animals Sunday, Founders’ Day 1662 worship, The Way of the Cross and other Holy Week traditions, all are things that I have either begun or renewed while being your rector, and will continue to evolve after I am gone. I will remember with joy my sharing them with you. And you will remember the verbal and pictorial items I taped to the balcony pillar which I named “Dr. Bauer’s bulletin board.” A poet wrote, “I am part of all that I have met,” and you will always to be part of me. Thank you for entrusting the interim leadership of your parish to an 80 year old Yankee with a limp!
Remember some of the things I have taught you or by which you have experienced spiritual growth or depth. The final thing I will say about parting being “sweet sorrow” is to share one commentator’s insight into Shakespeare’s words spoken by Juliet to Romeo.
“Saying goodbye to Romeo triggers deep sadness, but that sadness also reminds her of her love for him, and for this reason it is sweet. Saying goodbye also initiates her anticipation of seeing him again, which gives that emotion a pleasant tingle.”
So, we shall all ultimately meet again when the Church triumphant joins its heavenly Lord in eternal life, an eschaton which defies our understanding but inspires our hope and faith.
“And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and rose are one.”
T. S. Eliot “Little Gidding”
Yours in Christ,
The Rev. Dr. Tom Bauer