It’s an experience that most of us have had at one time in our lives, or more than once. Especially if we’re of the older sort. The experience is this: that someone we love greatly will be with us here in this life for just a little while longer. It may be a matter of hours, a matter of days or weeks, a matter of a few months based on medical diagnosis.
Most of us have looked at someone we love and thought to ourselves, “Today is Sunday. By next Sunday, one short week, they will not be with us anymore.” The death watch commences at some point. It proceeds forward as time marches on. Eventually, in a short period of time, the watch ends.
In today’s Gospel, we hear of Jesus’ death watch, which looks a little different from the death watches we’ve experienced with loved ones and friends. Mostly, our death watches proceed forward in a hospital room, a nursing home, in a hospital bed in one’s own living room, in assisted living, under the auspices of hospice. In some place where we witness life being drained from the physical body of a family member or friend.
As the Apostles are invited into Jesus’ death watch by the Lord’s own admission: “I will be with you only a little while longer,” they look at the One about to die in a short time and see a pretty healthy person. They have a hard time taking Jesus serious. The Lord doesn’t have cancer, or heart disease, or blocked arteries from all the fried food he’s consumed over his life. He looks as healthy as he ever was. Healthy as a horse, even one disqualified from the Kentucky Derby. But instead of being disqualified from a horse race, Jesus is going to be “disqualified” from the likes of this world, after Judas left them and commenced his dirty deed of betrayal.
Therefore, it’s very difficult for the Apostles in the Upper Room, sitting there in the presence of the Master Teacher, listening to him speak of his impending death…. It’s very difficult for them to picture his dying anytime soon as we would see someone we know is dying before us.
There’s a certain comfort in embracing this Gospel reading 5 weeks into the Easter Season of celebrating our Lord’s resurrection from death. Jesus’ death watch brings us back to a state of reality that, even though in our hearts and minds we live the holy truth that God raised his Son from the dead, we never stop confronting the harsh reality that death for ourselves or those we love is never far distant in our lives. Even when someone looks quite robust and heathy, like Jesus does in this Upper Room gathering.
With that taken note of, we turn to our other readings today to be enlightened by actions that call us to live beyond the death watch, not remaining in a place we’re never meant to stay after some intense sorrow and pain.
The first event is, shall we say, down to earth. In Acts, Paul and Barnabas find that the Spirit has led them to the great ancient city of Antioch, the city where they were first called Christians. And the message they share with believers of Jesus in that city is a universal, everlasting message; “Persevere in the faith.” Not just persevere, somehow on your own. But persevere in the faith. In Christ. Persevere in the center of our lives. Because the times of perseverance, as we know, are not infrequent. But it’s those few times in our lives when the death watch and the death reality can overtake our belief that Jesus has won the victory for good.
Persevering in the faith keeps us moving forward with the theological virtue of hope. Not a false hope, as some may say who lack faith and wisdom. Instead, a true hope grounded in the witness of the Apostles who stood before Christ after his death watch and his subsequent death, reporting it for all generations. What they reported allows us to persevere in the faith.
The second event connected to the death watch of Jesus in John’s Gospel, chapter 12, is the Gospel writer’s vision from the Book of Revelation. The one who sees a new heaven and a new earth, where the former heaven and the former earth had passed away. We’ve all seen some pretty amazing things in our lives, one of them being the Red Sox actually winning a World Series. We’ve all seen some visuals never to be forgotten. The birth of a child. Three 7’s coming up on a slot machine. But how about a new heaven and a new earth?
The Apostle John is blessed to witness mystically, firsthand, a vision that God bestows upon him, reporting it for the eternal benefit of all generations. John sees that God’s dwelling is with the human race, right here and now in the body of believers. Many who come together as one. He reports from this mystical event also that God will wipe every tear from our eyes – only tears of joy in heaven – and that there is no more death, wailing, mourning, or pain. No more pain of politics? I can’t get there fast enough!
John’s holy vision, of course, is a post-death watch and the post-death of the Son of Man, to which he is a witness to both. A vision centered in our joy being made complete. The best part about it? It’s not a fairy tale. It’s the real deal. It’s the cash settlement of why Jesus did what he did. A cash settlement that is not partial, but more than we ever bargained for.
The death watch of Jesus culminates in his death; he didn’t lie to them about the Cross that was coming quickly after Judas left, whether Christ was healthy looking or not. So, carry with you the great anticipation of seeing again those you watched die, and now in a state of blessedness we pray. For he truly is raised, and so are we.