Jesus Gets The Last Word!
by Pastor Troy McKnight
The Lenten season, the six week journey from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday has been a staple in my spiritual life for almost 20 years now. Truth be told, I have a bit of a love hate relationship with these forty days of self-examination, self-denial, and confession. Forty days of intentionally slowing down, embracing silence and solitude, soaking in the passion story of Jesus and joining him on his descending journey toward the cross. The fact of the matter is, Lent is hard! Lent is exhausting! Lent is uncomfortable! And yet, every single year I rediscover this season’s shaping power in my life as I learn new things about Jesus, about myself, and how he calls me to live in the world as one of his disciples. I experienced yet another one of those shaping moments today. Let me explain.
I received a call early this morning informing me that a friend and church family member who has been battling cancer for 14 years took a turn for the worse during the night. The family asked if I would come and be with them as they navigated this final chapter with him. So, I quickly re-arranged my day and headed over to the palliative unit at our local hospital. I found my friend surrounded by his family, heavily sedated, struggling to breathe, and beginning that long final stretch toward physical death. I hugged my way around the room until I reached his wife who grabbed me and sobbed away. Then we settled in for however long the journey would be. As extended family and friends came and went, stories were told, secrets shared, laughter erupted, tears rained down, and my friend Peter was honoured as he laboured away in the middle of this beautiful, outpouring of love. It truly was a sacred space.
At one point, it was just me and my friend Peter in the room. I sat very still, quietly holding his hand as he rattled away, trying to gulp enough air into his failing lungs. As we lingered in this moment, I was overwhelmed with the presence of Jesus that just seemed to be flooding his room. In the midst of this difficult, messy, painful moment with Peter clinging to life; Jesus was there. He was comforting, he was sustaining, he was guiding Peter through the end of his journey. And it was in this silent moment together, in the middle of Holy Week with Good Friday fast approaching, that I was struck by yet another powerful Lenten lesson. In that moment, I was reminded that Jesus doesn’t promise us that we will not experience pain, suffering, or sorrow in this life. Quite the opposite actually! Instead Jesus says:
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
You see, the truth is, life is hard! The truth is, putting our faith and trust in Jesus is not a “get out of suffering” for free card! The truth is, in this life we will be blindsided by pain, and disappointment, and sorrow, and loss! The truth is, this is all part and parcel with what it means to be human! And contrary to what some people will tell you, following Jesus does not exempt us from any of this! Suffering and pain will come into all of our lives at some time or another. We have no choice in the matter. It will come. Like my friend Peter, none of us will escape suffering and death. But here’s the good news, because of what Jesus has done on the cross we can choose how we face it. One of my favourite authors and constant Lenten companion, Henri J.M. Nouwen, puts it this way:
When we face suffering and death not in despair, but with the eyes of Jesus, we discover that where we least expect it, something is hidden that holds a promise stronger than death itself. Jesus lived his life with trust that God’s love is stronger than death and that death therefore does not have the last word. Jesus invites us to face the painful reality of our existence with the same trust.” Show Me The Way P.101
This is exactly what I experienced as I sat quietly with Peter today! In the midst of his final struggle in this life, I was reminded that Peter is not walking this journey alone. Jesus has walked it before. He has experienced all that suffering and death can bring and has come out the other side! Jesus has conquered death and the grave! Which means for Peter, death doesn’t get the last word. Jesus Christ does! And that my friends, changes everything!
May you, as the SBC family, know the presence, power and peace of the risen Jesus this Easter weekend and always! May you know his love that is stronger than death. May you always remember that suffering doesn’t get the last word, sorrow doesn’t get the last word, sickness doesn’t get the last word, broken relationships don’t get the last word, divorce doesn’t get the last word, addiction doesn’t get the last word, racism doesn’t get the last word, abuse doesn’t get the last word, broken choices don’t get the last word, cancer doesn’t get the last word, AIDS doesn’t get the last word, rejection doesn’t get the last word…Jesus Christ does!
Grace and Peace,
PS: I can’t wait to be with you next week!