Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
A myriad of details and rituals attend our cultural practices of mourning a loved one. These details range from the most fundamental aspects of business to symbolic actions who’s meaning almost has been lost to us over time. All these details and rituals engage us in an intricate dance, alternately bringing us face to face with our loss and then sweeping us into memories so vivid that our loved one for a moment lives among us again.
One of my tasks as a pastor is to assist in the choreography of certain aspects of this dance, guiding us through some of its steps and trying to make sure each new performance serves the dancers’ needs.
Occasionally, subtle variations in the dance steps open new insights for me. Such an instance occurred this week. I was talking with Linda last week, and we were discussing her father’s life and how it took care of his younger siblings. He was the oldest and felt the duty to help with the younglings. He faithfully served them and not because he felt it was his duty. It served them out of love, pure love, and if you’ve ever taken care of children not your own, you are the only ones who completely understand that concept. But of course, such unassuming service was Clarence’s identity. He lived out that identity of quiet service to others.
From the Gospel of Matthew, we read about people like Clarence who live lives of such unassuming service. Jesus said, “I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me, I was naked and you gave Me clothing, I was sick and you took care of Me, I was in prison and you visited Me” (Matthew 25:35-36). Perhaps Clarence might even have objected along the lines of those in the parable, no, Lord, that can’t be. I would have remembered feeding or clothing or visiting or caring for You.” But Jesus simply would smile and reply, “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of My family, you did it to Me” (verse 40).
Maybe we could say, in light of today’s Gospel reading, that especially in all those things that Clarence did his brothers and sisters, he had been waiting on the Lord’s table. And now he has heard the summons of his Savior: “Come, you that are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (verse 34).
Isaiah 40:28-29 encourages us to “wait on the Lord” but in a very different sense than that of serving tables. Within the dance that is the ritual of a funeral service, this movement is for the benefit of people who remain in this earthly sphere of God’s reign. In our loss and grief, we’re tempted to give in to doubts and fears about how we will continue. But in response to our despair, Isaiah cries, “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God …. He does not faint or grow weary … He gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless”. When we wonder how we’ll go on, the prophet reassures us that “those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles” (verse 31).
As we wait in God’s presence, as we comfort one another with God’s love shared in each of our hearts, we sense the reinvigorating power of God’s Spirit. Like the thermal drafts that lift eagles high above the landscape, God’s Spirit will hold us aloft in this world, and eventually carry us heavenward into eternal life. There we, too, will hear Christ’s call: “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”