1 Corinthians 13:8-10
When a beloved deacon in our church was dying, a number of us drove to Houston to say our good-byes. I was traveling with a group of women. When we stopped for gas, we also stopped to look at the deep blue of the December evening sky. “It’s just so beautiful,” I said. “Sometimes it’s hard to believe there’s anything better.”
“Oh, there is,” our friend Susan said, then told us the story of her near-death experience. She had been a 17-year-old exchange student in Brazil. Though she was a strong swimmer, she got caught in the undertow off the beach in Rio de Janeiro. As water filled her lungs, she finally stopped fighting and “experienced the most perfect bliss. It’s indescribable.” The next thing she knew, a lifeguard was resuscitating her, and she was angry to have to come back. She walked home that night under the outstretched arms of Jesus, in the form of the beautiful statue that stands over Rio.
Susan received a glimpse of “the perfect [that] supplants the partial” (Richard B. Hays, Interpretation: First Corinthians). Her story helped us to trust that our beloved deacon was truly “in a better place.” Though all of his good works had come to an end, the love he showed to others never would.
In this world of the incomplete, we are left with a lot of questions. Why did this good, fit, apparently healthy man die of an aortic aneurysm at age 57? Why did our friend Carl have to die of AIDS in his thirties, before they developed the drugs that would have saved his life? I remember a group of us singing around Carl’s hospital bed: “Farther along we’ll know all about it, farther along we’ll understand why.” So “cheer up, my brothers” and sisters, “live in the sunlight. We’ll understand it all bye and bye.”
What gives you hope that love never ends?
Merciful God, we bring you our grief over all the ways that love seems to end in this world. Help us trust that your Love never does. Amen.