(…continued) Six years later, Cleo’s husband John died. John was a believer, but wasn’t one to talk much about his faith. He wasn’t like Cleo. He didn’t have anything picked out for his funeral, and we did not have long discussions about God’s love and promises. He and Cleo went to church together, he sat quietly as Cleo read the daily devotions, and he listened sadly as Cleo told me what she wanted for her funeral. But he never said anything. Everyone knew this was going to be a lot harder for John than for Cleo, but John never said that. He never said anything about faith or what he was feeling. He could talk all day about his old red pickup, or about his days as a foot soldier in World War II, or about the 25 cats out at the old farm place they still owned. He believed in Jesus, but his faith wasn’t something he felt comfortable talking about.
In his later years, John had Alzheimer’s disease and was forgetting everything that happened more than ten minutes ago. I would visit him in the nursing home, and talk to him about Cleo and the old red pickup and the farm and his cats. Sometimes he would smile or would make a comment that showed he was remembering something, but usually he was quiet. Then I would read from the Bible and say a prayer. He would listen closely, but as always, he would say nothing. I would read to him all the most familiar verses, but his memory was gone, so no matter what I read, it was probably like he was hearing it for the first time.
Then one day, out of nowhere, John said something about the Bible. He had again been hearing the old familiar verses, especially the ones about eternal life in heaven and seeing our loved ones again. Perhaps it made him think about Cleo. All of a sudden, his eyes brightened, the wonder of those great old promises registered one last time, and he said, “You know, that is a really good book you have there.”
“Yes, John,” I said, “it sure is.” It was just a simple statement, but it struck me in an unforgettable way. Jesus died for us, and then he rose again from the dead, and he said that if we believe in him, we too would rise from the dead and live again with him in heaven. That is an incredible promise that we should never get used to or take for granted. But we do. We might believe it or half believe it, but we do take it for granted. But not John. There, in that nursing home, living out his last sick and lonely days, he heard that promise as if it were brand new, and it thrilled him. John was a low-key, quiet guy, who never got very excited about anything. But that day, something in those Bible verses got him excited.
This are many Bible verses that are worth getting excited about. Our fragile and temporary bodies will wear out and die. We know that. But someday, long after the worms or the crematorium destroy every last cell; maybe even long after the sun burns out and the earth freezes over; I don’t know when, but someday, in God’s own good time, we will get a new body and we will live again. And the book that tells us all about that, is, like John said that day, ‘a really good book.’
Nowhere else is such a promise given, and then backed up by one who himself rose from the dead. Nowhere else is such a hope given, a hope that can keep someone like Cleo strong and confident, even amidst the ravages of cancer. Nowhere else is any refuge given from the swift passage of time and the inevitable end of life.
John 6:66-68 — From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
John 3:16 — For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
whose Son Jesus Christ said,
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid’,
take away our fear of death;
bring us to the place he has gone to prepare for us;
and give us his peace for ever. Amen.