While this dear woman has escaped the pertinacious assaults upon her soul from a variety of sources, including the pressing exigencies of work, there remains for us who await the day of our own home going the pain of losing her. They tell me that heart wounds of this sort heal in time, but that has not been my experience. I think this kind of loss creates a hole in the heart and while the skin of the heart may heal, a bruised and tender spot remains for an interminably long time. She was near enough to my oldest daughter’s age that I formed a close attachment to her; one that has endured through the nearly three decades I have been gone from the southwestern town she called home. Sadly, my pastoral commitment during this Advent season precludes my traveling to west to be with my friends. If I did not think that it would only add grief upon grief, I would just quit my post and head west. Thankfully, my wife is able to go.
The book of Job may seem like an odd place to turn for solace when confronted with heartache, but there are few others who have suffered so in the crucible of life’s trials and still maintained their unshakable confidence in God's covenant love and mercy. We read, for example: Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble. ... Since his days are determined, and the number of his months is with you, and you have appointed his limits that he cannot pass, look away from him and leave him alone, that he may enjoy, like a hired hand, his day (Job 14.1, 5-6 ESV). That life is full of trouble, as Job knew all too well; but for all his misery he declares: Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face (Job 13.15) and, of course, that grand statement of eschatological hope: For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another (Job 19.25-27).
Perhaps some may think it strange, but I often think about my mortality, and when a friend departs this world the thoughts of my own departure override all other thoughts. The Bible does not give us a full description of the new heaven and a new earth; rather, the imagery suggests that what lies ahead is so wonderful that everything I’ve known up to this point pales in comparison to it. If this is true, then I suppose it is reasonable to be hopeful about what lies ahead. How we depart this life may vary from person to person but the country to which to which we journey is not a place to be feared. Three years before his death Alford Lord Tennyson the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom wrote the poem “Crossing the Bar.” He insisted that it be the final poem in all publications of his poetry.
Sunset and evening star
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
For though from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.
A month or so ago I had an occasion to refer once again to the sometimes acerbic English pundit Malcolm Muggeridge’s book “Jesus Rediscovered” as an introduction to a talk on the brevity of life. What Muggeridge has to say is based on the passage of Scripture I quoted in the opening paragraph (2 Corinthians 4.16-18). “For myself, as I approach my end, I find Jesus' outrageous claim ever more captivating and meaningful. Quite often, waking up in the night as the old do, I feel myself to be half out of my body, hovering between life and death, with eternity rising in the distance.”
“I see my ancient carcass, prone between the sheets, stained and worn like a scrap of paper dropped in the gutter and, hovering over it, myself, like a butterfly released from its chrysalis stage and ready to fly away. Are caterpillars told of their impending resurrection? How in dying they will be transformed from poor earth crawlers into creatures of the air, with exquisitely painted wings? If told, do they believe it? I imagine the wise old caterpillars shaking their heads -- no, it can't be; it's a fantasy.”
“In the limbo between living and dying, as the night clocks tick remorselessly on, and the black sky implacably shows not one single streak or scratch of gray, I hear those words: I am the resurrection, and the life, and feel myself to be carried along on a great tide of joy and peace.”
The Bible is replete with assurances about God’s provision for his children, not because they have adhered to a rigid moral standard (though being good is a good thing) but because they believe and trust in their heavenly Father. At the conclusion of Paul’s argument for the justification by faith alone in the first eight chapters of Romans he makes this remarkable statement: What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8.31-39).
HOLY SONNETS - III John Donne
This is my play's last scene; here heavens appoint
My pilgrimage's last mile; and my race
Idly, yet quickly run, hath this last pace;
My span's last inch, my minute's latest point;
And gluttonous Death will instantly unjoint
My body and soul, and I shall sleep a space;
But my ever-waking part shall see that face,
Whose fear already shakes my every joint.
Then, as my soul to heaven her first seat takes flight,
And earth-born body in the earth shall dwell,
So fall my sins, that all may have their right,
To where they're bred and would press me to hell.
Impute me righteous, thus purged of evil,
For thus I leave the world, the flesh, the devil.