They died less than an hour apart in the same hospital. I’d met one, I’d never heard of the other. One death was sudden, one was not surprising. As I talked with their families, I learned that each had loved and was deeply loved. And their lives were remarkably different.
You have to take my word for that, of course, because I can’t tell you more than that (as much as I would love to. I think you would laugh as I did.)
But I can tell you that in those first moments after death, standing in the room with their loved one, these family members knew that they had been loved.
I don’t always hear that, just so you know. People are honest in these moments, letting me know what didn’t work, what hadn’t happened. Just because there is a biological relationship, there is neither mandate nor guarantee that there will be any other kind of relationship.
What happened here is that these people, now gone, had taken the tiny, consistent steps that showed love. And had done that for decades.
It’s what Jesus was talking about when he looked at James and John, brothers, and said, “here’s my command. Love one another.” And when he turned to Peter and Thomas, both outspoken, perhaps a little competitive with each other, and said, “Love one another.”
Jesus grounded his command in his own example. Moments before, that example involved the servant role of washing dusty feet. During the previous months it had included all kinds of acts of compassion, of identification, of challenging unfortunate actions and attitudes. Shortly, it would mean death. When we think about the dramatic moments, we forget that there were all the moments in between, all the conversations on hikes, all the ways that they knew that the public Jesus and the family and friends Jesus were the same. Deeply loving, fully alive.
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