This morning I was reading about the woman who poured out a jar of expensive nard on Jesus’ head (Mark 14:3-9). While some thought it was a waste, Jesus said it was a nice thing to do before his burial.
This got me thinking: why don’t we do and say nice things for people while they are still around?
Eulogies are filled with the praises of those who have died. In fact, most I’ve heard describe the deceased as the nicest, most generous and least selfish person they ever met in their life. And I am glad that’s how you knew that person. But why not tell them while they’re alive? Why not make the phone call or visit and tell them? Or send a note?
Many deaths are followed by generous gifts given to the church or another charitable organization in their memory. That’s all well and good. But what if you had used that money to go and visit them, take them out to lunch, and create a memory that way?
You’ll never be able to make up for lost time at or after a funeral. But you can say something or do something nice today. And it will never be a waste.
It was a beautiful afternoon wedding. Slightly overcast skies kept it from getting too hot as the young couple took their vows just a few steps away from a blooming rose garden. Friends and family watched from all sides, witnessing two becoming one.
Some remained for the vast array of pictures while others, including myself, headed towards the small community center for the reception. I helped put the beer on ice as the BBQ caterers carried in the food and the DJ set up his sound equipment. Just a few minutes later the wedding party entered. Who knew how good ribs and champaign paired? Soon the dancing began.
My phone buzzed in my pocket. I glanced at it, recognized the name, and felt like I needed to answer. The voice told me that Jack (not his real name) had just been taken to the hospital. I confirmed which hospital it was, and thought, “I’ll head down there a little later on my way home.” I also thought, “I better start drinking ice tea and lemonade.”
Minutes later, my phone buzzed in my pocket. Same name and number. This time the voice said, “Jack just died.” What? I just saw him a few days ago. He seemed fine. I grabbed my coat, told my wife what happened, gave her a quick kiss and headed out to my car. I knew that his wife – now his widow – was alone with him. The rest of the family was not just out of town. They were out of state.
I didn’t turn on the radio right away, letting my mind transition from the first day of a married life together to the last day of a married life together. The last day of sixty-five years together. I never know when I will experience such extremes in just a few hours.
Another occasion from a few year ago flashed into my mind. One afternoon I baptized an infant just moments before I did a funeral for her great-grandmother. It was the one moment when all the family could be there, so we laughed and cried and celebrated the first and last pages of life.
Half-an-hour later I walked through the emergency room doors. Suspecting why I was there, a nurse in a mask at a desk asked, “Who are you here for?” After I answered she gave me a room number and clicked me in. I walked into the room where Jack’s body lay, still intubated and IV’d. His widow Marie sat there, head bowed, holding his hand. I touched her shoulder, she looked in my eyes, and reached up to hug me. My prayers joined hers as we commended Jack into the Lord’s hands, body and soul and all things. The words of the benediction spoke a powerful blessing.
I spent the next two hours with Marie. I certainly wasn’t going to leave her there alone as we waited for the staff to contact the funeral home. I also spoke with her daughter and a few dear friends to make sure Marie wouldn’t have to spend the night alone.
We sat there for a while, sometimes very quiet, sometimes talking about life and death. I thought to myself, “Sixty-five years ago, they took their vows, just like the young couple today.” And then I thought, “Imagine that young couple sixty-five years from now!” Time warped for me as six-and-a-half decades compressed into a moment. If you watch space science fiction TV and movies, you get to know the phrase “time-space continuum.” If you are in the ministry, sometimes you actually get to experience it!
My gospel illustration of the day popped into my head (thank you, Holy Spirit!) during a hospital visit with a friend who was pretty scared about her discharge, prognosis, treatments and eventually death itself.
I assured her that she would continue to receive good care from her doctors and nurses as well as from our Lord. But there was the rub. Not only did she believe she was being punished for past mistakes, she was worried about what purgatory would mean for her. I’d be scared, too. Technically, she identifies as Roman Catholic, but I’ve known her for a long time. I reminded her that Jesus had already been punished for her sins on the cross, so that was all taken care of. To illustrate, I said it’s like driving on a toll road. You don’t have to go through the toll booth and pay anything. You’ve got a SunPass, so you can cruise right through. I had just driven back and forth to the Orlando airport on 417, so the image was fresh in my mind. And it seemed to make sense to her.
She said, “Well, I trust you, so I guess that’s the way it is.” I replied, “Well, I got it from Jesus, and I know we can trust him.” The respiratory therapist finishing up her chart in the room concurred, and after a quick prayer I was on my way.
The SunPass stuck to my windshield had a powerful message to preach this week. Who knew?
I noticed that I had almost nine hundred friends on Facebook. I know many have more than that. I also know that I don’t follow the lives of that many people. I probably see the updates of about ten percent. On a whim, I decided to scroll through all those I counted as my “friends.”
Some I didn’t even know. <unfriend> Some people showed up three or four times. Restarts or hacks. <unfriend> But then, someone came up who died last year. Another from a few years ago. Twelve deceased among my “friends.” <unfriend>
A few thoughts about that:
When you die, your online self lives on. It’s kind of like eternal life, but not really. I’ll bet when you die, a lot of folks don’t even know you’re gone. They still send you birthday greetings.
Some of the deceased were actually better friends than those still alive. I’ve stopped following more than a few living friends because I couldn’t stand to see what they posted, they never posted, or they posted too many times a day.
In a strange, macabre way, I wish my dead friends could post something. Wouldn’t that be awesome. Tell me a little about heaven. Or hell.
I’ll bet you can create a bot that will post for you after you die, so that most don’t even know you are gone. The bot will create status updates, share photos, and send birthday greetings. You could be immortal if you planned it right.
Or, I could begin my posts with the caveat that I am dead, and communicating from heaven (or hell). Some people would believe it. And that would be awesome. Y’all want to hear from the beyond. I’d be happy to oblige.
Hey, you don’t even know if this is me or a bot. Mind-bending, isn’t it? Good name for a blog: “Blogging from the beyond.”
The call came pretty late last night, about 10:45. I was driving, and felt my phone buzz in my pocked, but didn’t listen to the message until after I got home. “She said she thinks he’s dying.” I only live about a mile away and I didn’t want them to be alone, so I headed over to the apartment.
When I arrived, it was and it wasn’t what I expected. I’ve been with many people in hospice care for the last days and hours of their lives. I’m familiar with the shallow, irregular, rattling breathing. I just didn’t think it would happen this soon. Just hours earlier, he had been awake, conversant, signing his own documents and deciding to come home from the hospital. Hospice hadn’t even been to the house yet, and it looked like he’d be gone before they even arrived. He wasn’t conscious, but he also didn’t seem uncomfortable, which was a blessing.
A few more people arrived. All we could do was wait. Wait for a call back from hospice. Wait and wonder whether it was a wise choice to come home. Wait and pray, commending him to the Lord’s care.
With her encouragement, we left about 12:30 pm. She knew who to call if anything got out of hand. When I called back this morning, I learned he had died about an hour after we all left. Her words to me on the phone were, “I know he’s with the Lord. I just hope God accepts him.”
Without hesitation, I replied, “I have no doubt! He had faith in Christ. We just talked about that the other day when I brought him communion, He was forgiven. You don’t have to worry about that at all.”
“Thank you so much. That’s just what I needed to hear.”
If you know me at all, you know I talk about that all the time. Maybe when you’re sitting there on a Sunday and life is pretty good and you don’t have too many worries, it doesn’t register. But when the breathing stops, you feel all alone, and reality kicks in, it suddenly becomes an issue. So, you need to hear it again. If I can, I’ll be there to make sure you do.
Lately it seems like I’ve been spending a lot of time with people who get hit with stuff over and over again. What do you do for someone when the cancer keeps coming back? Or the headaches? Or the strokes? Or the flooding? I’m humbled knowing I don’t have a whole lot of answers. But I get to bring Christ, and he gives more than we ask or imagine.