It is Hard to Say Goodbye
Holy Thursday John 13:1-17, 31-35
All of us have been in a situation where it is hard to say goodbye. We have all been in those situations where we have had to say goodbye to parents as we have moved away, goodbye to children as they have grown up, or goodbye to a dying loved one. We have all been in those situations.
Some examples. I am aware of emigrants getting ready to leave the old country such as Norway, Denmark, Sweden or Germany, to move to America. These people are mostly young at the time. Some of you who are seated here in this room tonight have been in that situation e.g. Otto Wieland or Astrid Dominik. You are people who have emigrated from your homeland. I see some of you nodding your heads in agreement, remembering when you left you homeland and said goodbye to a mother or father, thinking that they may never see them again. Your mother and father wanted to say something significant to you, their departing son or daughter. If you have been in that situation, you will never forget the mood, the feeling of what happened at the last moment before you left your homeland. It was hard to say goodbye. … My mother was in that situation. She would tell me the stories of when she left Denmark as a little four-year old girl, waving and crying to her grandmother who was on land, and my mother was on the ferryboat. My mother never saw her grandmother again. It was extremely difficult for my mother to say goodbye to her grandmother whom she would never seen again. … I remember my conversations with old Mrs. Furseth from decades ago, when she reminisced about coming to Seattle from Oslo to be a servant girl, and how difficult it was for her to say goodbye to her family in Norway. It is tough to say your last goodbyes.
Or, others of you have been in the situation where someone precious to you is dying such as your mother or father or husband or wife. It comes to the point where you are spending some of your last moments on earth together. You want to say something significant to each other, but the primary significance is in the loving silence that you share together. In that moment, you say goodbye and you hope you will never forget. You want to remember your last goodbyes. You may forget the actual words, but you will never forget the moment, the significance of that last time together. In our parish recently, Al Lamb died; and his daughter read to him a precious story. The father smiled; the mother cried; and the daughter was glad to share a last precious moment with her two parents. Elsie Runions died recently and her family wanted to be with her in her death. It is tough to say goodbye, but a person is grateful for the event, if you can be present to say the last farewell. Most people cannot be present. I remember my last farewell conversation with my mother before she died unexpectedly. I don’t remember the actual words but the essence of the conversation. I can tell you many of the stories from that last conversation with Mother. Today I called an old friend from the past, Rick Rouse who is a pastor at Pacific Lutheran University. We spoke of his wife’s death some months ago, and I could tell that it had been hard for him to say goodbye. Yes, most “last goodbyes” are tough.
Or, some of you may have been in the situation where a child is to leave home. He or she is eighteen years old and they are going off to military service, off to college, or off to work in some city far away. The child who has grown up to be a young adult is no longer going to be getting up and coming to your breakfast table every morning. No longer are you going to listen for them to come in late at night. That child has now grown up and is moving away. You say your last goodbyes and they are off to college, off to the military, off to work in another city. And when your child who is now an adult comes back, it will no longer be the same because they are no longer a child under your roof. And so you say your last goodbyes.
All of us handle these last goodbyes, these final farewells, in different ways. Some of us are rather stoical. We shake hands and say goodbye. “Son, be good and take care of yourself.” Some of us are more stoical, controlling our feelings. Others of us are criers. We cry. We weep. We can’t talk because we get all choked up. Still others of us are “happy go lucky” people, and we try to make our final farewell a good time and we laugh it off. And still others of us avoid these situations all together. That is, we never get caught in the situation of having to say the last goodbye. We avoid that situation at all costs. We can’t say the last goodbyes and so we avoid the situation. Each of us handles these delicate situations differently.
Personally, being the emotional type, saying the last goodbyes has always been difficult for me. I am not very good at that. I feel that this is a character weakness that I have. I am not proud of it but I have learned to accept that this is the way I am.
For example, I remember very vividly saying my goodbye to my older brother as he went off to college. I was a young, nine year old boy, and I probably loved my brother even more than my mother and father. He was eighteen years old; he had been my idol, a basketball star, a football star. I dearly loved my brother, and after fifty years, I still remember standing in our garage of our house, saying my goodbyes to him. I still remember the moment after all these years. I can remember standing under a certain post. I can remember him walking out the door. I can remember me crying. I remember my big brother saying, “I’ll be back. I’ll be back, Eddie. Don’t worry. We will see each other again.” I was so overwhelmed by the pain of the moment, I couldn’t see the possibilities of the future.
Or it was the same in Madison, Wisconsin. I remember vividly leaving Madison, Wisconsin, after two years as a youth director at Bethel Lutheran Church there. I remember my last sermon there, how I broke down in the sacristy off the front of the sanctuary, that little room where we clergy gathered before worship. Why all the tears? I don’t know. I have no idea why it was so hard to say goodbye to those years in Madison, but it was very difficult for me, as it was when my older brother went off to college. I was so overwhelmed by the pain of the moment, I couldn’t see the possibilities of the future.
Or I remember saying goodbye to a friend of mine at the seminary. Rollie and I had spent three years together, and we had learned to love each other very much. During those years in the seminary, his little boy Scottie had died of crib death. We had driven around aimlessly for what seemed like hours. It now came time for us to say goodbye at the end of our seminary career. I have forgotten the actual words but I will never forget the significance of the moment that we shared. Two close friends saying goodbye. Two close friends knowing that this was an end of an era together. Why was I so emotional? I don’t know. Even after all these years, I still don’t know. I was so overwhelmed by the pain of the moment, I couldn’t see the possibilities of the future.
I am simply saying to you that I am not very good at saying goodbye. I would rather avoid those situations, at almost all costs. Those events are not easy for me.
Well, such was the mood of the last supper of Jesus, the last night that Jesus shared a meal and conversation and friendship with his disciples. During that meal, they were so overwhelmed by the pain of the moment, they could not see the possibilities of the future. For three full years, these twelve men had learned to live and love each other. They had been together night and day for three full years: three years of meals, three years of miracles, three years of teaching. They had shared so much life and so much death together. Jesus had trained them for three years to be his disciples. And there they were in Jerusalem together or the last night, the last meal, the last words, the last parting comments to each other, their last goodbyes. The disciples knew that Jesus was soon going to die. This was their last moment together.
The movie and the play, GODSPELL, certainly picks up the mood of this scene well. GODSPELL shows the twelve disciples saying goodbye to Jesus. The scene is very touching. In the play and movie, there was a clown named, Pip. Jesus was saying goodbye to each of his disciples, one at a time. There were the traditional, expected, emotional hugs. Jesus finally came to Pip, the clown. Pip put out his arms to hug Jesus and say farewell, but then Pip unexpectedly turned away. Pip walked away from Jesus. Jesus stood there. Pip turned towards him but then looked away again. One more time, Pip looked at Jesus and after putting on a solid, stoic front of coolness, Pip finally broke down and ran to hug Jesus and say goodbye. It was a very touching and emotional scene. This scene was well done in GODSPELL. It was tough to say goodbye.
Such was the mood of the last supper. These men had grown to love each other and knew that this was the end of their relationship. This was an end of an era, an end of their earthly relationship of love as they had known it. This was the end of their three years together and they were very tight as a group with Jesus.
So… during that last supper, the disciples listened intently to the words of Jesus, hanging onto his every word. They knew that this was their final lesson, his final word, his final word. Words of wisdom. Pearls of great price. Gems for future generations. They listened carefully and wanted to understand and remember as much as they could.
They listened to every word of the wisest teacher they had ever heard, “I will not leave you an orphan. I will come to you again. I will send my spirit to come and live in you. A woman who is about to deliver a child experiences great pain, but when the child is born, she forgets her pain. And so you will experience great pain at my leaving you, but when I come to you again, you will experience great joy as at the birth of a child.” The disciples thought to themselves: What does that mean that he is going to come again, that we will forget the pain of his leaving us, that when he comes we will experience great joy like the birth of a child. What does this all mean?”
He continued with more words of wisdom, “In my house are many mansions or living spaces. If this were not so, I would not have told you. I am going to prepare a place for you and when the time is right, I will come again and take you to myself.” … “Those words make sense,” thought the first disciples,” but what do they mean. Many mansions? Many living spaces? Go to prepare a place for you? Come again and get you to take you to these mansions? That’s good that Jesus is built living spaces for us, but where will these living mansions be and how will we get there.”
The disciples again hung onto these priceless pearls. His words were so profound that they were beyond their grasp. Jesus said, “He who has seen me has seen the father. He who knows me knows the father. He who loves me, loves the father.” The disciples thought to themselves, “OK fellows, this teaching is kind of heavy. Whoever sees, knows and loves Jesus, then sees, knows and loves the father. Is Jesus saying he is like the father? He can’t be saying he is the father. He must be like the father. Whoever sees, knows and loves me loves God. OK. I think that is what he is saying.”
Again Jesus spoke and the disciples were totally quiet as they concentrated intensely on these last words, on these last teachings, the last gems, the last pearls. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. If you love me, you will keep my words. A new commandment I give to you: love one another. By this will all people know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. This is my commandment: love one another as I have love you. I command you: love one another.” The disciples thought to themselves. “A new commandment? To love one another as he has loved us? Those words seem to be clear. It is what he was saying all these past three years, to love one another. These words seem to be at the heart of his message. Are these his final words to us? His last words?”
Then it suddenly changed. No more words. All silence. A silence so deafening. The disciples thought to themselves, “What is he doing? He is taking a towel. It is so quiet. No one is speaking. No one is stirring. No one is moving. Totally silent. Now he takes a bowl of water. We hear the splashing of the water. The creak of the floor as he quietly moves. The rustle of his garments as he kneels before each disciple. Now he is washing the feet of one disciple. Now he is washing the feet of all the disciples, one at a time. No. Weird. Strange. A breathless silence. He, the master, washing each of our feet? What does this mean?” Jesus finally breaks the prolonged silence and he says, “Do to one another as I have done to you. Be loving servants of one another?”
All the while that Jesus talked, the disciples did not comprehend that Jesus was going to come again. I can understand that. We can understand that. We can understand not comprehending the meaning of the last words. Such as when my older brother left me to go to college. I thought our relationship was over. I was a young child, nine years old, and I didn’t see the future of a loving relationship that would span future decades, that our relationship would be even deeper in fifty years and I soon will be with him for his seventieth birthday. I didn’t understand his words that we would see each other again and that we would still be friends. I didn’t’ get it. I was too young to get it. I was too absorbed in my pain to see into the future. Likewise, with Dr. Morris Wee and Madison, Wisconsin. I didn’t understand that our relationship wasn’t over. I thought our relationship was over and didn’t realize the future, that I would actually work for Dr. Wee again in two years, that we would be friends, that he would become my mentor for life, that we would come and talk us as a congregation into sponsoring refugees. I was so absorbed in my pain that I could not see the possibilities of the future. Likewise with my good friend Rollie Martinson. As our seminary days came to an end, I thought that it was over and the relationship was done. Little did I realize that we were just beginning and that our friendship would span more than four decades. In all of these situations, I thought I was saying my last goodbyes to them, and I didn’t comprehend the possibilities of the future that God had prepared for me.
And so it is with all of us. Each of us takes our turns. We are to absorbed in the pain of the moment that we cannot see the possibilities of the future, the future that God has prepared for all of us.
And so it was with the disciples. They thought they were having their last goodbyes and they didn’t comprehend his teachings. They couldn’t comprehend his words because they were so absorbed in their pain of loss.
So often in life, we think it is all over. We have said our last goodbyes. The other night, after sixty-five years of marriage, Claire kissed his wife Agnes goodbye after she had died. We were together in the hospital, and he kissed her goodbye, but … it wasn’t goodbye.
The last goodbye is not the final goodbye. The future continues. God’s future continues. Jesus does not leave us orphans but God comes to us with his spirit who lives within us, heals us, and prepares us for the future. God’s future always overwhelms the sadness of today and yesterday.
The last supper was not the last supper but the beginning of the feast for all eternity. Amen.
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