While it is said that “No one gets out alive,” from life on this earth, that is, some of us are palpably closer to death than others. It is something that I know from my work at the hospital, where on an irregular basis I find myself working with people who die while in the hospital or shortly after leaving. Right now it is a reality that I’m being reminded of in a more personal way.
My father-in-law has a slowly progressing cancer. Day-to-day he looks much the same, so that when I see him in person I rarely think of his illness. I do remember it daily during the prayer time my wife and I share, as we pray for our parents. I know that one day, barring some other unforeseen event, the cancer will take him from us.
My mother’s life is reminding me of life’s end in a different way. She had been in her normal health until some things happened in September that resulted in two brief hospital stays, followed by two weeks of rehabilitation. At the end of those two weeks she was clearly stronger physically than I had seen her all year.
The trips to the hospital had provided us with some information about her health, but also with a lot of questions. Vague diagnoses with vague prognoses. As a family we got her back to her condo and took turns checking in on her.
Then things changed. An unforeseen event. Similar symptoms but also different symptoms. Another trip to the hospital. An acute crisis, some tests, improvement, new diagnosis. New prognosis. And a new word for our family…hospice.
On Sunday my mom got out of the hospital and back to her condo. She wants to die at home. Between the excellent care and support of the hospice agency and some of my mom’s friends, and the cooperation of my siblings and our spouses, we intend to support her in that desire.
As I write this the first full day at home is drawing to an end, and it has been a good day. Mom was physically better and in the afternoon we spent a lot of time looking at old pictures. And when that began to wind down there were two sets of visitors, two couples that my mom has known for decades. More stories, more memories.
One of those couples included a retired Lutheran pastor, and he brought the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. An eclectic gathering of believers seated around a table. Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed. A Jewish observer. For me it wasn’t a time to think about the things that divide us, but a time to look forward to the promise that we were being so tangibly reminded of as we took of the Bread and the Cup.
The liturgy the pastor used included a reading from John 14:1-6a, and of that passage verse 3 really stood out to me:
“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”
Christ Jesus, the one who reigns eternally as Lord and Savior of all who come to Him by faith, promises that he has prepared a place for those who follow Him. It is an eternal dwelling that is perfect in ways we cannot do more than dimly imagine. It will be exponentially better than anything we can conceive of. And exponential is a word that doesn’t really describe how much better eternity in heaven will be than the best things we know of the world in which we now live.
I understand what my mom means when she says that she wants to die at home. But in the taking of the Lord’s Supper today God also reminded us, or at least me, that earth is a temporary dwelling, a place where we can know God’s presence and love as He prepares us for our true home with Him. A place that is being made ready now for us, as we are also being made ready for it.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.