Vol 9, Num 20 :: 2010.11.05 — 2010.11.18
A few years ago, my family traveled to Japan. When the last day arrived, we were reluctant to leave the tropical island. Standing on the shore of the East China Sea, my husband urged me to take a long last look. “After all,” he insisted, “we will probably never return to this place.”
So I stopped what I was doing and carefully examined the exotic scene: the green moss-covered coral reefs, the grey blue water stretching as far as I could see, the sea shells littering the white sand. I took a deep breath and concentrated…this was my last glimpse of Okinawa.
Last moments are meant to be savored because they may never happen again. But all too often last moments have a way of sneaking up on us. We don’t realize they are the “last” until they are gone.
In 1998, my dad died of a heart attack at the age of 60. His death stunned my family. There were no last moments. No last chances to say good-bye, to tell him how much we loved him. He was with us one moment and gone the next. Even when I try to remember the last time I spoke to him, the exact words are not clear. It was one of those ordinary conversations, and I did not appreciate it until it was past. My last moments with my dad were in a hospital room, when he was already gone.
The gospels record the last moments of Jesus’ time on earth. For the disciples, the moments leading up to Jesus’ death on the cross were marked by shame and fear. I am sure the disciples remember those hours with regret. Why did they fall asleep during those last moments in the garden? Couldn’t they have remained alert in his time of need? I am sure that Peter probably played over and over those last hours before the crucifixion. He may have recalled in excruciating detail each denial of His Savior. The Bible says that three times he denied knowing Jesus. Three times!
I am sure the disciples wished those last moments had been different — that they could have stood up for Jesus, testified on his behalf, carried the cross, waited while he breathed his final breath. But they did not. Their last moments with Jesus were not proud ones.
So imagine their joy a few days later when Jesus rose from the grave and walked up to them. In that one magnificent moment, those last moments of shame were erased! Here was their Savior, in all of His glory. They had one more chance, one more last time!
This interaction with the resurrected Jesus was not marked by shame and regret but by forgiveness and challenge. Jesus commissioned his followers, sending them forward. This was not the end, he seems to say, this is only the beginning. “Go, and make disciples!”
The day after my father died, I was searching for piano music to play at his funeral. He was our church pianist, and his all-time favorite hymn was the old gospel tune, “Victory in Jesus.” As I opened the piano bench to find the sheet music, I noticed a bright yellow note he had placed on top of his hymn book. He had written these words: “My Hope Is in the Lord!”
My last moments of sadness were suddenly transformed by a convicting sense of peace. It was as if he reminded me, just as Jesus’ disciples had been told, “Don’t look for me here — I am risen!”
When I visit my dad’s gravesite — and I don’t go very often — I tend to focus too much on his death and my loss. Instead, I try to remember my dad when I look at an amazing sunrise or when the fall leaves show off their spectacular colors. I speak to him when I’m driving or when I hear one of his favorite hymns on the radio.
He is not here — he is risen!