Our family has made four major moves in the last twenty or so years, and not one of them has been easy. Each was related to our call to follow God’s leading in ministry, and in each, we felt confident in the decision and direction we were headed, but no amount of hopeful anticipation can ever make leaving easy. Good-byes are hard!
I came to love different things about each of the places we’ve lived; the fresh, cool climate in Oregon, the vast rolling wheat fields in Oklahoma, the blooming fruit and nut trees of Oakdale and for me, coming home to the familiar crops and dairies of Hanford (though I’m not sure the rest of the family would celebrate the dairies quite as much!)
In each new location there were places to explore, stores to frequent, houses to organize and new schools for the kids. But none of those things wrenched our hearts when it was time to go……it was the people; always the people who had entered our lives and our hearts that made it hard to leave. I still have vivid memories of each move – each last box taped shut and each final turn of the key in the lock, because I see the faces of those who stood on the lawn and waved as the loaded moving truck finally pulled away. I remember the farewell potlucks and the cards stuffed with cash to help us on the way. Weeks before each move, the “lasts” would set in. Last time out to lunch with a special friend, last time to visit a favorite park, last time to worship with loving church families…..on and on they would roll until finally all the lasts were done and it was time to go. I remember feeling like it was the hardest thing we had ever done…..all four times!
On this day of Holy Week, referred to as “Maundy Thursday”, Jesus faced many lasts. He shared the last of what must have been hundreds of meals with his Disciples and his friends, he shared many last words with them, almost reviewing all he had tried to teach them in the years prior, but distilled into the simple command to remember to love each other. He laughed with them for the last time. He washed their feet and left an example of service we continue to look to today. He lifted his friends up in prayer to God, and asked for a comforter, an advocate to be sent to them in his place. For a final time, he went to the garden where he had gone so many times before to pray, but knowing this time he would be met with betrayal….
I’ve never imagined how hard it must have been to say good-bye. I’ve considered how Jesus must have agonized over the knowledge of the events that would rapidly unfold on the evening of this day of lasts, but before that….in the upper room, sharing a familiar meal with those who were dearest to him…..he had to also be looking around the room….and saying good-bye. He loved them so! He had learned their strengths and weaknesses, he traveled the countryside with them – knew who liked figs and who hated snakes. They were family – and though he knew he was returning home to his place of glory, that they would be reunited one day and this was just a temporary parting, I’m sure it still felt exactly like….good-bye.
And that is why I am so deeply in love with Jesus of Nazareth. He didn’t need to trade divinity for humanity, but because he chose to, because he experienced it all – the beauty and the heartache, he understands me….. and he understands good-byes.
It was at Jesus’ last Passover meal that he used the common elements of bread and wine to symbolize to those in the room his broken body and shed blood, and gave the instruction to remember him when they ate and drank them (which was pretty much daily.) Tonight, as we shared in a simple Maundy Thursday meal with our church family, a tradition we’ve followed so many times before, Kelsey became acutely aware of the absence of her best friend, the one who had always been the “other” for so many years as mom and dad cleaned up the last of the tables and put away the candles and tablecloths. Their “job”, every year following this service, was to finish off the last of the freshly made bread and grape juice! They would dunk fat hunks of bread into the remaining cups of juice and have a post-service after party. Tonight was the first night she didn’t have Brett to finish off the bread and juice with…..and it broke my heart. (This good-bye is proving to be the hardest of all….)
I picked up the little plastic knife that was in the butter dish in front of us, and began to write his name on the brown paper table covering, and after consulting Kelsey about ending in an exclamation point or smiley face, I finished his name, and Kelsey laid her head down on the table next to it and we both wept tears of longing, the longing that comes from deep, deep love.
If Jesus hadn’t suffered so….if he hadn’t felt sorrow to the point of death, I don’t think I would be able to trust him with my own. As I allow more and more of my heart to be exposed to his love and healing, I am ever more convinced that he feels what I feel and his heart breaks with mine.
So, as I end this night, recalling the “lasts” that Jesus experienced on this day of Lent, I find his company as I face my own. The comforter that Jesus promised would be sent in his place is patiently at work, always present, and always drawing us nearer to the One who understands good-byes. The darkest days of Lent are yet to come as we remember the betrayal and crucifixion of the one who was blameless, but even on this night of remembering “lasts”….I am also reminded that the promise of Easter is just beneath the horizon, and death will be finally and completely be defeated, and the gift of eternal life will be ours! No more sorrow….no more pain….and no more……good-byes. <3