Lent 2 B: God as Companion in Our Dying

Our Readings for this Second Sunday in Lent are:

Old Testament      Genesis 17:1–7, 15–16

Psalm                    Psalm 22:23–31

New Testament     Romans 4:13–25

Gospel                   Mark 8:31–38

In Genesis we hear about how God covenants with people and so holds them tight. Throughout generations, God doesn’t let go of the offspring of Abraham.

In the Gospel Jesus schools his followers to understand that the road of the Messiah and Son of Man MUST BE one of great suffering, compounded by rejection and death at the hands of others

Our Psalm is one Jesus will himself quote from the cross—the lament of the one who feels abandoned by God in the midst of unspeakable, chronic agony.

We are starting our second year of the Great Global Pandemic. Surely, if nothing else, this experience has forced us to think harder about death and dying. And so, these lessons speak to us!

Back in 1969, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross started the world to thinking deeply On Death and Dying with her book of that title. The conversation led to the creation of hospice and palliative care. Up to that point it was common for doctors and family to assiduously try to hide any diagnosis of a terminal illness from those in the final stages of life. Of course, since most people who are dying know it, the silence just contributed to the feeling of isolation and abandonment that made natural process of dying all the more unnaturally painful.

Tied to this, I have observed that the very worst thing—and a tragically common thing—is that the afflicted feel not only sick, but cursed. And what can be worse than the curse of dying alone?

At the very heart of this Sunday’s worship is this: We who begin to pray, acknowledging that we feel abandoned even by God, suddenly charge all our fellow members of the covenanted people to be in awe of, and glorify God …

For he did not despise or abhor

the affliction of the afflicted;

he did not hide his face from me,

but heard when I cried to him.

Even we who should know better still try to avoid talking about death to someone who is dying. In the same way we quit saying the names of the dead in the presence of the widows or fathers who buried them. And when someone has suffered for so terribly long with a chronic disease, we lose tolerance when their disease begins to define them, and when it becomes the only thing they can maintain a conversation about.

So, we pull back. We quit visiting and texting and phoning. We just can’t find the words, so we don’t speak.

This Psalm and these readings have the power to snap us out of this fearfulness in reverence for the God who walks with us in the dark hills of life.

How worthy of praise is it that we have a God who does not pull back? How wonderful is it that the Messiah Jesus took up his cross and blessed the crosses that we must bear? How mysterious and magical is it that God has covenanted with Israel, and now, through Christ, with all of us; and so will not loosen his grip on us?  How awesome is it that God hasn’t tired of hearing billions of us lamenting the Great Global Pandemic? How blessed is it to have a Companion all the way through our suffering, our disease, our affliction, our lockdown lives…and our dying.

This Lent, and for the rest of our lives post-pandemic, let us all affirm that the believer’s role in taking up the cross and following Jesus entails getting used to dying as a natural part of life. And if none of us will complete our missions alive, we might as well learn to listen to each other and talk honestly and boldly about this strange but wonderful trip called death and dying.

And, by the way, if finding the words to say is stopping you from being present to a dying person, try these. If you say them honestly, you will find them opening the flood gates of feeling, tears, and truth:

  1. Forgive me.
  2. I forgive you.
  3. I love you.
  4. God loves you.
  5. Thank you.

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About John

John is a retired pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who has served congregations for over 40 years, including in rural, suburban, campus ministry and urban settings. His love of Border Collie sheepdogs has been fortified by his many friendships with shepherds all around the world. Nothing he has ever or will ever accomplish is as significant as the patience God, his wife and his friends have shown in putting up with his deficiencies.
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