(Like many folks, I will not be celebrating this Mother’s Day with my mom. Her life on this earth came to an end last year. In her memory, and for others who miss their moms this Mother’s Day, here is an excerpt from last year’s Easter Sermon that I preached for the congregation – and for myself – not too long after her death.)
On February 11, just before lunchtime, I had a conversation with the doctor at the Northeast Florida Community Hospice. She had just spent time examining my mom. Two days before, on Wednesday, I had gotten a call from my sister that I needed to get down to Jacksonville as quickly as I could. I flew down and spent most of that night and the next day at my mom’s bedside. Then came Friday, and that conversation with the doctor. “It will be soon,” the doctor said. I asked, “Soon as in days or soon as in hours?” “Hours,” the doctor had replied.
It was my turn to call my sister and tell her to get to the hospice right away. Thankfully, she lives just 20 minutes away from there.
So, I had 20 last minutes alone with my mom. Although my mom was not at all responsive, everything I’ve heard and read about the end of life says that hearing is the last sense to be lost. What could I possibly say that would encapsulate the 48 years we had known each other, especially the good chunk of that at the beginning when she had taken care of me, taught me, patched me up when I was cut or bruised, and most of all just let me know that I was loved?
I know many of you have experienced this time with a loved one – the last few hours that you’ll spend together. Some of you have been through it quite recently.
For me, there were all kinds of emotions that day in the hospice room with my mom. There was of course sadness, there was frustration that there was nothing I could do to change the outcome, there was even some anger that my mom was only 72 and that the last ten years of her life had been so seriously impaired by Alzheimer’s.
There was also fear. Now, let me explain. It wasn’t the same kind of fear I had experienced 24 years before when my dad died. Then, as many of you know, I did not believe in God or salvation or an afterlife of any kind. When you were dead you were dead. And I remember not being so much afraid of death, but afraid that I would never see my dad again. I was afraid of saying goodbye . . . forever.
The fear I felt with my mom was more for her comfort and for my doing and saying the right things. I have to admit, I am always a little afraid the bedside of a dying person. It’s part of my call, and I’m supposed to know what I’m doing – and that’s where the fear comes in. I do my best when I’m with a family in that situation to be led by the Holy Spirit, but the Spirit’s leading is being filtered through all of my imperfection and I wonder if I’m saying and doing the right things for the person who is dying and for the family.
And this was my MOM.
I held her hand. I talked to her about all the things she had done for me – I told her again that I had been able to work with kids and families in trouble before I was a pastor because of the great job she and dad had done at parenting. And that I was sure the faith foundation they had laid growing up had a lot to do with my answering God’s unexpected call to ministry. I thanked her for all the stuff she had done with me and my sister when we were little – all the crafts at the kitchen table, all the brownie batter bowls I had licked, all the stories she had read to us. I told her again – for the last time – that the only reason I had been able to do well on Jeopardy! and WWTBAM was because of the curiosity and wonder about the world that she had instilled in me from the time I was very young.
Then we were just quiet for a while together. The signs of death – the purpling of her hands and feet, the increasing shallowness of her breathing – were heavy in the room.
I was indeed afraid. Afraid that I had not said enough.
And then . . . I grabbed my Kindle and opened up one of the Bibles I have stored in it. I found the 28th Chapter of Matthew, and I read out loud the words of the Easter Gospel.
I read it for her.
I read it for me.
And then we got to verse five: “But the angel said to the woman, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. He is not here, for He has been raised as He said.”
“Do not be afraid! He is not here, for He has been raised!”
The resurrection of Jesus Christ isn’t just a nice story that we tell each year on Easter. It’s not some myth or some symbol. It’s not even just Jesus’ story.
The reality of the resurrection is OUR story – it’s the story that is at the core of our faith and of our hope. It is at the core of our very identity. We are EASTER PEOPLE.
When I had finished reading my mom that Easter story, I felt a mix of joy and of awesome wonder. I felt the presence of God in that room. I was sure of the reality that my mom was in God’s hands. And I knew God would never let go of her – that the promises God made to her in her baptism were not just promises for this life, but forever.
I knew my mom would not be cured – that she would die in a few hours. But I also knew she would be healed – perfectly healed in a resurrection that was prefigured by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And in that resurrection there would be no Alzheimer’s or any kind of sickness or sadness or death.