It seems there are so many of my friends right now who are suffering loss of loved ones. Some have been unexpected tragedies, others have been at the end of a long struggle with illness. Some have been too young. Some have been old. The one thing true of them all is that it hurts.
One thing I often hear from people experiencing grief is the desire to have one more conversation with their loved one – usually an opportunity to say, “Goodbye,” or to catch up on events.
Did you realize that Jesus told the story of a man who wanted to have one more conversation? The difference for him, though, was that he was not on this side of the grave, but the other. He showed an urgency for a conversation with his brothers. It wasn’t to say, “Goodbye,” or to catch up on recent events, though.
So what did he urgently want to talk to his brothers about? There were two things. The first thing I think he would want to say is, Heaven is real, and you want to go there.” He had discovered the reality that the afterlife offered either reward or torment, and he wanted to warn his brothers.
The second thing he wanted to tell them was to repent. Repent is a tricky word. It often connotes a hellfire and brimstone preacher pounding on the pulpit as he shouts, “Repent. Repent.”
However, repentance is more clearly understood as a warning to change direction. When I lived in Utah, I was with my family on a hike in the mountains on a popular route. We encountered a man with a horse that was apparently frightened by all of the people. It was close quarters, and the horse was jumping, running and kicking wildly. We quickly retraced our steps and began to warn others of the danger ahead.
This is a moment that often comes to my mind when I think of repentance. It is not a mean spirited shout, but a loving warning of danger that lies ahead. It’s an encouragement to head in a different direction. In the case of the man Jesus talked about, and in my case as a minister it is an encouragement to turn to Jesus and reward rather than danger and torment.
We are not able to have one last conversation with those who have passed, but we can honor them by having these loving conversations with the loved ones they leave behind.
Joel Gay is Pastor of the Wilmington Church of the Nazarene.