"Comfort, Comfort ye My people, speak ye peace," saith our God;
"Comfort those who sit in darkness, Mourning neath their sorrows' load.
Speak ye to Jerusalem of the peace that waits for them;
Tell her that her sins I cover and her warfare now is over." (LSB 347)
I could barely sing these words to (we'll call him) Sailor and his wife without tears as he laid in bed, waiting. Waiting for the cancer to finish its cruel course. Waiting for His Day of Fulfillment. Waiting for death. Waiting, like Simeon, to die peacefully in Christ. Waiting for the promise. Waiting for fulfillment. Come, Lord Jesus; come quickly. Make haste, O God, to deliver me. Make haste to help me, O Lord.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer's words came to my mind on the somber drive home: “A groan wrests itself from our breast, ‘Come, God, Lord Jesus Christ, come into our world, into our homelessness, into our sin, into our death, come you yourself, and share with us, be a human being as we are and conquer for us….Come along into my death, into my sufferings and struggles, and make me holy and pure despite this evil, despite death.”
The Sailor family knows something about waiting. 13 years for a liver transplant. Today marks the 2 year anniversary of that day, a joyful day in the life of Mrs. Sailor. And now, 2 years later cancer moves like a plague through Sailor's body and they find themselves waiting again. In the words of the hymn, "he hath suffered many a day." And yet, even now His griefs have passed away. He has already died. Christ has marked him as his own in Baptism where God changes pining sadness into ever springing gladness.
The Sailor Family also knows something about darkness and mourning for in these grey and latter days, death and grief accompany waiting. And yet, it is precisely in the midst of our bitter darkness, when the warfare appears to be too long, when the burden too heavy, the disease too painful, the coming loss so numbingly real - it is precisely there in the depths of our sorrow and poignant grief where our Lord comes.
Hark, the herald's voice is crying in the desert far and near,
Calling sinners to repentance, Since the Kingdom now is here.
O that warning cry obey! Now prepare for God a way;
Let the valleys rise to meet Him And the hills bow down to greet Him.
Thy Kingdom come, we pray. And the King does not tarry. He comes. He advents Himself. At the bedside of a dying man through the steady, yet sorrow-filled voice of a pastor, through His word of absolution and consolation, through the mercy shown by a loving spouse - comfort, comfort. The end of the church year and the beginning of the church year are marked by waiting and fulfillment, hope and expectation are met by promise and consummation. Soon it appears that Sailor will see his own Sunday of the Fulfilment even as we await the final resurrection on the Last Day. The Day of the Lord is a day of comfort, when cancerous, embattled bodies will be will be changed in the twinkling of an eye into resurrected, glorious bodies; livers will not need transplanting; loved ones will not need funerals; spouses will not weep for sorrow, nay, only for joy at the feet of the Lamb. Indeed, the dead are more easily raised from the grave than a slumbering teenager. "Arise," commands the Lord. You see, even the dead obey His voice.
This is what our Lord goes to Jerusalem to accomplish, to fulfill, to realize - to pronounce: "It is finished...Truly I say to you - Sailor, to you Sailor's spouse, to you who struggle under the guilt of sin, the yoke of death, the tempter's rod, to all who suffer and are weary of this vale of tears - today you will be with me in paradise."
And there is joy, even more poignant than grief. There is the eucatastrophe. Joy in the Crucified, the King, the Savior. Comfort incarnate. Consolation in human flesh. God for us, God who is one of us, God who is with us, yes, in death, and if he is with us in death, how much more will He be with us in the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting. Amen, come quickly, Lord Jesus.
"For we do not want you to be uniformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead who are in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore, encourage one another with these words"
- 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.