I am presently sitting at a restaurant at JFK airport in NYC, headed in a few hours to São Paulo, Brazil (March 9). But as I sit here, my wife is sitting with her 94 year old mother as she probably lives her last few hours on this earth. (She passed away on March 12.) I sat with Sue’s mom 3 days ago when I went up to Spooner (Cornerstone Church) to preach on Sunday. It was a remarkably sweet time, I would never be anyone’s first choice to go and minister at a nursing home. I’m uncomfortable with the depth of primitive needs and the empathy required to serve in a good way. But Granny (Lorraine St. Peter) was aware that I was there and I helped her to eat breakfast. Small bites, making sure they were delivered as desired (“Make sure you dip the cinnamon roll in the coffee.”)
But even though this kind of service is not in my “gift mix”, it was a privilege to serve the woman who bore and raised my wife of 45 years. And I told her as much. I am so grateful for a life of devotion and service of which I am the direct beneficiary. God our Father did something in my heart as I fed breakfast to my mother-in-law.
I have been reading the Scriptures in Genesis 37-50 over the past week. You know it, the story of Joseph and his family in Egypt. Yesterday I was onto the passage where Jacob dies. And before he leaves consciousness, he blesses all his children. Really quite amazing for all involved, a profound turn of events orchestrated by a sovereign God. And after, he dies. The response to his death is so striking. In the embalming process it states that “Forty days were required for it, for that is how many are required for embalming. And the Egyptians wept for him seventy days.” (Gen 50:3)
Seventy days. I don’t think they were literally crying tears for those 70 days, but they considered how Jacob’s life and his son Joseph had literally saved their nation. And they honored him properly. When they took Jacob back to Canaan for burial, they took “a very great company” and “they lamented there with a very great and grievous lamentation and he made a mourning for his father seven days.” (Gen 50:10)
So, here’s my question.Jacob was old and it was time to die. It will occur for all of us. Why so much commotion and ceremony? Nursing homes are largely populated with barely sentient folks who are in their last days for the most part. But they have all affected and influenced dozens of life, largely for the better. They have served, undoubtedly sacrificed and given to another generation. And many will be quickly forgotten and gotten out of sight once they breathe their last.
But what happened for Jacob? At his death there was both a familial and national recognition of a man who had deeply affected many lives, and his departure needed to be properly recognized and understood both for the present and future generation. They made this a big deal because it is a big deal. John Donne wrote once in his Holy Sonnets that no man is an island. We are all deeply connected and especially to our parents and inlaws, those who have borne the heat of the day to get us to the present.
My mother in law will die soon. Maybe tomorrow, maybe this week. But I want to prepare my heart to honor her well, to properly mourn and recognize the remarkable additions she has brought to my life. I’ll speak at her funeral and this will be a great privilege. She wants me to do it. She likes me because I have loved her daughter for 45 years and was part of bringing her 6 grandchildren and (soon to be) seven great grandchildren.
And I dearly hope that we will all recognize how she has given so wonderfully to all of us.
Pray especially for Sue during these momentous days, and for me as I seek to be helpful to the people of Jesus in Brazil.