It was Maundy Thursday 1983. That is the service before Easter Sunday that celebrates the last night Jesus spent with his disciples. I was sitting in the choir at St. Mark United Methodist Church in Santa Barbara, California. Jimmy Gibson was preaching. Jimmy was an Irish-born evangelist then in his 70s. He’d retired to Santa Barbara and served as the minister of evangelism at St. Mark church. He was a unique and beautiful guy. When he talked about Jesus, or heaven, or just about anything connected to Jesus, he would get so excited that he would stand on his tiptoes and lean out towards the congregation.￼￼
He did that lots in the sermon he was preaching that night. His title was “The Importance of Last Things.”
He told of saying goodbye to his mom in Ireland as he set sail for America. He told of the last goodbyes to friends dying. He told of Jesus’ last night with his disciples. God used that message to awaken a move of God in my life.
There’s something clear about last moments. There is a special quality to those times in life.
I was saying goodbye in 2000 to my mom at the care facility before I left to head back home to where my family and I lived in another state. Both of us knew this was our last goodbye. Sometimes you just know.
Mom had had ten years of Parkinson’s disease. She was doing ok, just with some dementia, but still we knew. I leaned over her bed, kissed her and said, “Bye mom. I love you.”
She had been incoherent at points during the conversation we had just had, so I wasn’t certain she was even seeing who I was. But as I leaned over her, she reached up, placed her right hand on my left cheek and with a completely lucid expression on her face and in clarity of voice, she said, “Lord, bless my son.”
There we were. Mother and son bonded in a touch. It was like the moment when Jacob blessed the sons of Joseph in Genesis 45. It was this clear moment of loving affirmation and grace. And then the lucidity vanished. And she was speaking to people I couldn’t see.
I walked out staggered at that moment. She died a week later while two nurses supported her, one on each side, to walk her to lunch. On one side of her doorway she was alive, on the other, she’d left.
As we have exited a decade and I’m in this last six months of pastoral ministry, I’ve been thinking lots about last things.
Last summer I led our last Hagg Lake Baptism Service. I participated in my last VBS (called camp iwannabe here) with our partner congregation. I also went on our missions trip for the last time. I just walked through my last Advent and Christmas celebration. It was my last Christmas Eve service. Each of these has felt particularly unique it its own way. But Christmas Eve was poignant.
With all my love / hate relationship with that service still it was the best year.
It was simple, stunning, and moving. And the coolest thing happened. Because we finished early, I was able to make the 30-mile drive from my church building to my wife’s and attend her service! So in the same night I led my last and participated in my new first Christmas Eve service. And it made the ending less painful. Not that I won’t grieve the endings, but I discovered that just because something ends doesn’t mean there’s nothing good awaiting us around the corner. For I so enjoyed just attending the service, hanging with friends there, laughing and being.
I totally didn’t expect that.
As we have exited one decade and left behind all that cluttered it, I hope you can enter 2020 with a hope that sustains you into this new year and decade.