I didn’t want to go to church today. Our warrior pastor is in palliative care in his last days of life while his family sits and watches and waits for the inevitable. I didn’t know what to expect or what to feel or what to hope for as I went through the Sunday morning routine. It hasn’t even been two weeks since I heard him preach or gave him a hand pound. It’s actually been just 12 days. A lot has changed.
And it is bringing up lots of questions. I don’t have the answers. But a writer’s gotta write, write, write, write, write….it’s part of the healing.
I’ve had lots of texts today from friends asking “How was church?” That’s their way of holding me accountable. I need that. And my answer has been something like “Church was both terribly sad and incredibly awesome. I guess that’s how God works, huh?”
It’s true. And I should have known. (insert face palm here)
I should have known the Holy Spirit would be there to comfort us. I should have known we would shout the words to songs we’ve sung over and over, fueled by the passion in our hearts for Jesus.
You just do not sing “We BELIEVE in God the Father, We BELIEVE in Jesus Christ, we BELIEVE in the Holy Spirit and He’s given us new life” without conviction when your pastor is dying. Unless you don’t mean it. And then you stay silent. But there weren’t many silent people in the service this morning. Even our worship leader commented on the shouts and strength of the voices as I hugged her neck after we closed.
Yes, the face palm. I should have known. I have seen God work and use the worst situations to create the most beautiful opportunities. Over and over.
I should have known the HOPE OF HEAVEN, Jesus Christ Himself, would give us reason to REJOICE on Palm Sunday.
Other questions I’ve heard center around “Why him?” “Why such a faithful man of God, a focused and fearless pastor who preached the name of Jesus every single day of his life as long as he was able?” “Why do bad things happen to amazing people?” “Why does the God your pastor serves allow something like this to happen?” “I don’t get it.” Well, I don’t either. But I know one thing.
Our pastor isn’t better than anyone. He’s human. The Bible says “ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” When a man or woman is saved, they’re saved once and for all and nothing we do with our present or future changes that or makes it more permanent. NO one deserves eternal life with Jesus more than anyone else. If we really understood the battle that rages on, we might ask why he gets to go to heaven so soon. I’m not saying it isn’t incredibly gut wrenching and terrifying for the family to watch. I’m not saying the pain isn’t excruciating for them and for him. For us. I’m just saying….our days are numbered before time begins. By our Creator. It isn’t up to us to somehow earn extra time or escape death by being “good.” And that, to me, is freeing. It frees us to serve and to love with genuine hearts. It frees us to enjoy His love, knowing death has been conquered and there is nothing to fear and NOTHING we can do to earn it. He just…loves us.
We believe that.
Yes, you can enhance the journey by obedience and living by faith. That’s biblical. And that’s just what our pastor did. Which makes it hard to understand why the Lord would call him home so soon. I don’t get it either. I just know our pastor himself said things like “You are writing your obituary right now.” And he lived every day showing that he believed that and wanted his to be written about his faith, his perseverance, his confidence in God’s great plans, and the peace he had even in his fight against cancer. Peace that passed all understanding even as he laid in palliative care knowing the end was near.
When a leader like ours leaves a legacy, he leaves CONFIDENCE. Not fear. HOPE. Not anguish. VISION. Not blindness. VICTORY. Not defeat. FAITH. Not fear. A BEGINNING. Not an end.
He leaves a shadow that makes you want to know where the light came from that made such an impact through him. His shadow points you to the source of the legacy. It makes you look up and say “USE ME TOO!”
So when I sat in the sanctuary not knowing what to expect this morning, it wasn’t his big “Change the Room” sign that reminded me of him and brought me to tears. It wasn’t the pulpit where I felt like he should have been. It wasn’t the man clapping like Jon used to do to encourage the worshippers. It was the hands raised just like his were less than two weeks ago. The hands raised up to the One who makes it possible to cast a shadow or leave a legacy. I know that’s where our pastor would point us. So…face palm...and hands raised.
I should have known.
But in Christ, there’s no condemnation and I’m free to enjoy the legacy. The tears and the hope and the vision and the shadow.