…that our joy may be complete.
-1 John 1:4
That phrase the nurse whispered to your family a little too close to your bedside. No news to you, of course. You had known death for weeks and would whisper about it in the lonely darkness. You felt it in your bones and in that place in your gut where you assumed your cancerous liver lurked.
Yes, you knew you were dying. You felt the death gradually spreading through your body. Someone else finally saying it made the truth seem more real, more poignant.
You could have told them that weeks ago.
Pain and the drugs have buried the day, but in your dream-state, your thoughts and memories and half-forgotten desires would not sit still as they swirled around your head. The plaintive pleas of your heartbroken family did not help. They kept whispering funeral plans and comforting words as they try to ignore the mountainous landscape of the black screen by your bedside. Every throb of your heart ached at their grim grief and tearful goodbyes. You wanted to help them, to comfort them, and it frustrated you to be unable to do so. So you returned to your thoughts.
Those kept escaping you, and it irked you. They kept coming back to something important that you still needed to do or someone whom you really must see before your time ran out. You just couldn’t think who.
Funeral. Somehow it was related to a funeral. Not any funeral, but that one funeral years back. Something someone said at Phil’s funeral years ago mattered, that moment of death that shored up your sagging life. How did that death connect with these, your last moments? Was it concerning the word of life? Neither life nor death can separate us?
Around the mercy hour, you look right at me and really see me by your bedside. You smile, surprised to be unsurprised to see me. My utter familiarity confuses you. You know me like an old friend, but cannot seem to think of when I became a part of your life or whether, somehow, I had always been here.
Another distraction. A man in black entered the room. You realized this stranger was the man you were waiting for, the one you needed to see before you went any farther.
“The Peace of the Lord be with you all,” he begins.
The grace of his words, like a cool rain, washed away all the sins that troubled your heart. The peace he left truly pierced your heart like a spear, and all your pain flowed out like water. His peace implanted in your heart and began to grow. Your worries lain to rest, your thoughts become clear. You remembered suddenly the glory which you had come to hope for at that funeral so many years ago and the new foundation in faith that had begun that day. This moment might lead to eternal bliss with Him whom you had come to love. The thought surged into your mind like a tide, pushing out your fears and doubts and leaving an almost giddy anticipation.
The end—was it just a beginning?—had come.
The vastness of reality that lay in the hints and guesses beyond the veil of your limited senses unfolds before you as you leave the vale of tears. Your heart leaps as the secret symphony which hid at the edge of your comprehension swells to welcome you further in, mixed with the plaintive call of the gull and of the albatross on some bygone seashore. A breeze from the first glimpse of your home country wafts in the purple smell of cypress as the deep chocolate touch of the snowy yew kisses your cheek. Then, behind you the laughter and the warmth of a long-forgotten Christmas Eve fireside.
All your life, I have tried to guide, to guard, to coax you to this moment. Too many have turned to see the truth of Glory to find in themselves only hatred for joy. In death, these sad souls can only spurn his Face, for in life, they chose only to reject His grace.
But you? You turn to realize that all these beautiful things merely serve as reflections of the true beauty who created them. Every longed-for desire, every fading love and passing joy led here. Every time that “it can’t get better than this” darkened into “is this all there is?” desire for this Face ached and burned within you. There, at last, is He for whom your heart yearns.
You look on Him with love’s fear, and Love’s gaze drives out all fear and vindicates all pain. For a moment, or perhaps an age, the searing Truth of his gaze burns away your imperfections and follies until only perfect peace and joy remain. Here, you are finally home. Now, Truth lays to rest the hope beyond desire which faith above reason bore. And as faith fades to vision and hope to possession, you leave your body for a time, passing into stories too great and beautiful for words.
The bouncing point upon the dark screen blipped once more then carved a green horizon on the black sea. Tears poured down granite faces. Someone whispered, “Gone. All gone.” No one thought to ask whither.
Photo by Simon Wilkes.