I snapped this picture last spring before the trees had yet leafed out. The sign had already been up for some time by then, although I have to say I never actually went inside to see what they might possibly be selling for a dollar in a furniture store. (Today if you drive by you will see that not only is the sign gone, but the furniture store it pointed to has also been leveled and a bright, shiny, new, as yet unoccupied strip mall stands in its place.) And so, even in that season when the world was becoming new again, I found myself looking ahead to this week’s Gospel lesson and the way in which it points to final things, last days and of how Jesus’ words today inform us in such a time. I am reminded that unlike this furniture store whose sign offered warning and invitation to the community for months, in terms of what Jesus points to now you and I are not going to have any such warning…You and I are left to live in the moment, in every moment, as thought it could be the last one…
I wonder how one does that though. How does one live with that kind of expectation, that kind of urgency all the time?
I got a taste of it Thursday afternoon. I was making late afternoon hospital calls when my cell phone rang. I glanced at it to see it was my mother, but I had already spoken with her earlier in the day. All was well then so I did not immediately pick up. Instead, I silenced the ringer for just a moment, lingered a moment or two longer with a woman who had just undergone a serious test. Something told me to return the call, though, as I made my way down the hallway for one more stop. As soon as I heard her voice I knew something was seriously wrong. She had gotten home from afternoon errands when a fever set in. Her voice was weak and she couldn’t stop shaking. I told her I was on my way.
I had half an hour drive ahead of me to contemplate all that could be and all that I wasn’t yet ready for. I’ve seen enough with other families to know how this could go.
When we got to the Emergency Room the doctor told us it was a good thing we came when we did. Another day and the story could have ended quite differently. As it is, after a couple of days in the hospital and some heavy duty antibiotics, even as I write Mother is in on her computer checking her Facebook page and playing games.
It is really only a handful of times in my life that I remember feeling the need to act with such urgency. In all those times the call came unexpectedly, like a ‘thief in the night.’ In all those cases, the well being of a loved one was at stake. In each of those times, regardless of the outcome, I found I came off those hours both exhausted and clear about what matters most.
And yet, I have to say I’m not really certain how it is that Jesus would expect us to live that way all the time. At the same time? Gospel lessons like this one are easier ways to be reminded of the urgency of what matters most than are November afternoons driving just within reach of the speed limit to get to a loved one in need. Indeed, the message before us now appears to be simply this. Time is shorter than we think. It all could, in fact, end at any time — whether in the cosmic sense that Jesus speaks of now or in the very personal, individual sense that I found myself contemplating on an anxious November afternoon. It all could end at any time and that being the case, well shouldn’t that make a difference for how I live this moment now?
As I write tonight I remember how I first learned this lesson and no, I didn’t learn it the easy way. I was twenty-one and a senior in college. I was all caught up in the final things: the last year and months and days that seniors who have loved their college experience get caught up in.
The word came in that time that a beloved cousin was seriously ill. Perhaps because I had only experienced the losses of much older loved ones by then, I could not imagine this would end as it did. Or maybe it was only that I had no idea of what it could mean. So I didn’t go. And in May she died.
I did go to her funeral. I recall standing with family near her casket overcome by grief and regret. It was in those tender moments that her older brother came over to me and putting his arm around me he quietly said, “She loved you, you know.”
I had not tended last things well and even so in that moment when I was confronted by the consequences of that, I was enveloped by grace. And ever since then? I’ve always tried to go. For I always know now that last things could, indeed, be last things. At least for now.
Jesus’ words don’t go down easy today. He speaks of things I would rather not consider much of the time. And no, I don’t know how we live as though this is so all the time. Even so, they are as true as they can possibly be and they are meant as gift if only I can receive them as such. Indeed, I need to be reminded of these things:
- Don’t lose sight of what matters most.
- Know that it will all one day end.
- Live like that is so.
And? Through it all — on those days when I do it well and on those days when I don’t still comes the whisper of grace that I am still loved. As are you.
- How do you hear Jesus’ words today? Are they meant in the cosmic sense or the individual sense or both?
- How does this ‘warning’ make a difference for how you live your life? Where and how have you already learned this lesson? What has that meant for you?