Monday, April 14, 2014

The End of the Journey

Earlier today, I read on facebook about a beautiful woman named Gwyn who recently left the hospital to go spend her last days on earth surrounded by family and friends in the comfort of her own bed. I hope and pray that she isn't in pain or afraid.

I hate reading stuff like that. We all do.

I don't even know Gwyn or Steve, her husband, but I know someone who does. The someone I know asked us to keep Gwyn in our thoughts and prayers - and of course I will. Even without knowing her, I am sad that she is coming to the end of her life journey.

Whenever any of us hear that someone is near the end, we are stunned a little and saddened a lot. We all know we're gonna die sometime and we know everyone else is gonna die too. But the younger the person affected or the closer the person is to our age, the more "real" it feels, the more devastating, the more sobering.

I can't decide if I think it is a good thing or a bad thing to know the end is so near, to go through a series of "lasts" - this is the last time I will go to the supermarket, to ride in the car, to see this friend, to eat this meal. This is the last time we will make love or celebrate our birthdays, our anniversary, and go to church. This is it - and I know it.

I hope that knowledge would make me embrace and enjoy every day with greater attention and alertness. I hope it would make me more grateful for all the days I have lived, all the love I have known, and all the joys I have experienced.

This week is the most important week of the year for me on my faith journey. This is the week that I will focus on the end of the journey of Jesus of Nazareth.

Yesterday was Palm Sunday, the day of the parade given in Jesus' honor. The pastor at church described that parade in a way I'd never heard before: the formerly lame people that Jesus had healed were probably dancing in the crowd. The formerly blind people were making eye contact with the one who had restored their sight. The former lepers mingled freely in the crowds. The girl who had been raised from the dead was probably there, celebrating and welcoming the one who given her new life. To that list, I would add Lazarus, also recently raised from the dead. And some of the people he had recently fed were feasting on his presence and the praise that he so richly deserved. I bet those people were thinking about all the days they had spent with their Teacher, the meals they had shared with their Rabbi, the miracles their Healer had performed in their lives and in the lives of those they loved.

And all the while, he knew what was coming. He knew he was less than a week from the end of his life. That he was soon going to be taking his last walk through the garden of Gethesemane. His last time in the temple teaching. His last conversation with his mother. His last supper with his disciples. His last moments - carrying the cross, being nailed to that cross, bleeding and dying. The end of his journey was not going to be surrounded by friends, sipping cool water, numbed to the pain by morphine and sleeping pills in the comfort of his own home and bed.

I shudder with every reading of the story of what happened to Jesus during his last week. The betrayal. The denial. The arrest. The mockery. I hated watching The Passion of the Christ and seeing such a graphic depiction of what happened this upcoming weekend. So much pain, so much suffering, so much disdain, so much sorrow. Even though I know that "the end of the journey" was not the end of the story, I still weep when I ponder the horror of that final day.

Sometimes I still cry when I think about the dark and painful moments I endured during kanswer treatment. Sometimes I cry when I ponder the possibility of kanswer returning and having to go through another round with that dreadful disease. I know that I too will someday be in my final week. It may be due to kanswer or some other illness. I may be an accident or a fire. I do not have any idea. But the time will come when I will take my final walk up the street, my final trip to Spain, my final time with friends, and my last supper.

But I also rejoice, truly I can smile through my tears, when I think of the countless blessings I have had in my life, when I list the many things I am grateful for, when I think of all the people I have loved and have loved me, and when I think of all that is yet to come, between now and my own walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

Most of all, I rejoice when I remember that, if God is true to God's Word (as I have come to understand it), then the end of my journey will not be the end of the story.

But still...

I wish Gwyn traveling mercies on this final leg of her life pilgrimage. I will pray for her and her family, for peace, for comfort, for love, for everything she needs and wants from now until the end of the journey. I will pray the same for you and for me too.

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