One day we were celebrating Monica’s birthday, the next morning we got a call that her mother was on her deathbed. I was already at work when Monica’s sister contacted her, so my wife picked me up at church on our way to Livonia. Fifteen minutes into our journey together Monica’s sister called again. Mom was gone. We would meet at the nursing home to gather around the lifeless body.
Irene, Monica’s and Julie’s mother, was 97 years old. She suffered from severe dementia, to the point of not knowing anyone, including her daughters, for many years. A couple years ago she would still speak the words of the Lord’s Prayer with me when I visited her with communion, but in the more recent past this had faded, too. She smiled when I played hymns and tapped her feet to the beat of polka music, but that was about it.
The word “farewell” has its origins in Middle English – from the late 14th century, a combination of faren wel. Wel is clear enough, meaning “abundantly … in a satisfactory manner … very, very much.” The word “faren” comes from the Old English faer, meaning “journey, road, passage, expedition”. When we say farewell to a loved one, we are sending them on an abundant journey, with the anticipation that we will see them again … in that great abundance.
We may not have been able to say farewell to Irene during her last days of life on earth … the nursing home home’s COVID-19 regulations had kept us out since early March … but from that Friday morning through this Saturday’s committal, we are giving that same blessing to her body … with the sure and certain promise that our abundant journeys will conclude with an incredible reunion … resurrected bodies reunited with sanctified spirits … “for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.” (1 Corinthians 15.52-53)
Though now we may only “see in a mirror dimly” what it will be like (1 Corinthians 13.10), even that view is pretty good. “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep … Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4.14, 17) “He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things will have passed away.” (Revelation 21.4) “Behold, I am making all things new”, says Jesus. “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21.5)
My list of things that I look forward to being “made new” is pretty long. And, while the image of perfect weather, cloudless skies and the blossoming foliage of spring are appealing, these items you will not find anywhere near the top of my list. I think rather of new minds … new hearts … new wills … healthy relationships … and the comforting voice of our Savior tenderly speaking to us, “Your warfare is ended, your iniquity is pardoned. Receive now from my hand a double portion of my righteousness for all of your sins.” (Isaiah 49.2)
We farewell throughout our journey on this earth – even as we grieve – for “surely the Lord’s goodness and mercy follows us all the days of our lives.” (Psalm 23.6a) We farewell as our bodies lie asleep waiting, with great anticipation, for the resurrection (Revelation 6.9-11). And all who live in the promise that “we shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23.6b) know that the best is yet to come.
In life, and in death, we have our struggles … our ups and downs and sudden changes. We have our memories … good and bad … and our loss of memories, too. Life is a journey … a faren wel … as by God’s grace we sing, as we will on Saturday, “in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.”