A Joyous Goodbye

John 19: 30-37

When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. 31Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the Sabbath, especially because that Sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. 32Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. 35(He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) 36These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, “None of his bones shall be broken.” 37And again another passage of scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced.”

The Seven Last Words of Jesus were chosen by the Christian community as Jesus words of farewell and goodbye.  None of us is a stranger to the ritual of goodbye.  One writer has said- “Life is a series of goodbyes.”  And, so it is.

It seems that all of my life, I have had to say farewell or goodbye.  I remember leaving home and going off to college.  Little did I know that I was saying goodbye, not only to family and friends and familiar places, but to a way of life known to me for 18 years, a life which had served me well.  This was one of my first goodbyes. Saying it was very hard to do.

Yes, life is full of goodbyes. For instance, getting married is saying hello to a new future.  But at the same time, isn’t it saying goodbye to the past?  Anxiety always accompanies marriage’s goodbyes. We say goodbye when we leave one job and go to another.  Even “moving on up to the east side” has it pain.

Saying goodbye to a daughter or son is painful, too.  I remember my younger daughter’s first day in a fancy private school.  It was more than I could do to leave her there.  She seemed so small compared to the high ceilings and wide halls.  As I watched her go into her classroom, a world unfamiliar to her and to me, she seemed to disappear in this strange, vast, new place.  In that moment, I knew that I was saying goodbye to the child I had known.  The exercises of a different environment, new cohorts, and new significant others meant that she would never be the same again.  For her, it was goodbye to the old self and hello to the new.

Saying goodbye to my older daughter as she entered the ivy halls of Spelman College was one of the most painful goodbyes of my life.  When I returned to my car after having left her there, I put my head on the steering wheel and cried. Indeed, life is full of goodbyes.

As a pastor, it seemed that I was always saying goodbye.  I said goodbye to young people who were headed off to college, war, or a new home.  I said farewell to members I had known for years who were now headed off to a new city to take on a new job, or a new spouse or a new life.

When I retired in August of 2006, I had to say goodbye to countless people, many of whom I had come to know and love over nearly thirty-nine years. As a pastor, I came to know the joy and sorrow, the fear and exhilaration of saying goodbye.  In my thirty-nine years as a pastor, I presided over more than 1,000 funerals.  There is no goodbye as excruciating as the goodbye occasioned by death.  Death overcomes a loved one, a friend, a fellow church member as we find ourselves in the midst of painful, extended goodbyes.  Indeed, as a pastor, I have known the joy and sadness, the fear and exhilaration of saying goodbye.

But saying goodbye is one of life’s inevitabilities.  It was inevitable that Jesus would one day say goodbye.  So in the Seven Last Words from the cross, Jesus Christ the Lord of Life is saying his goodbyes.  In the 19th chapter and 30th verse of theGospel of John, Jesus said, “It is finished.”  In John, this is Jesus’ final goodbye.  The words, “It is finished,” are often contrasted to Christ’s last words in the Gospel of Mark where Jesus said, “My God, My God, why have you forsake me?”  John’s words do not contain the pathos expressed by Mark’s Jesus on the cross.  But John’s words are closer in tone and feeling to Jesus’ last words from the cross in the book of Luke where the forsaken Christ said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Regardless of their feeling or tone each of the seven sayings of Jesus from the cross are Jesus’ way of saying goodbye.  Jesus’ goodbye in the Gospel of John is not, however, an occasion for sadness and despair.  Rather, it is on occasion for great joy and great hope!  The death of the Johanine Christ is neither a time of suffering, none of ignominy. It is not a time of universal desolation.  This is no time for sad goodbyes.  The death of Jesus in John is the beginning of great triumph.  “It is finished,” is not a whimper of death.  Rather it is a cry of victory.  “It is finished,” Jesus cried out, neither in pain nor in disappointment.  Jesus cries out “It is finished!” as a glad goodbye of victory and of joy!  The victory it heralds is that of having obediently fulfilled the will of God.  It is a joyous goodbye because God’s will has been done.  It is a joyous goodbye because what God has decreed has been achieved “It is finished” said Jesus. “I have achieved the purpose for which I was sent.”  Yes, “It is finished,” is a joyous and confident goodbye.

In this classic blue print for saying goodbye, Jesus teaches us how to turn the pain of life’s terminal partings into redemptive occasions for joy and hope.  When Jesus says from the cross, “It is finished,” he teaches us what it’s like to say goodbye in such a way that frees those whom we are leaving behind enabling them to be vibrant with life and excited about life’s new possibilities.  It reminds those to whom goodbye is addressed that they can make their lives full, complete and sublime.  The Jesus of John’s Gospel knows how to say goodbye.  “It is finished” is his triumphant cry!

As a young pastor in Detroit in the mid 1960s, I visited with a woman who knew the Jesus way of saying goodbye.  This gracious woman’s death was imminent.  I was a bit apprehensive about my visit with her.  Although she lay dying, she had her senses about her and was aware of everything.  I was inexperienced in visiting with the dying in those days. After a few awkward exchanges of pleasantries, I finally asked this woman who was near death, “How are you doing?”  “Oh, I’m dying,” she said, somewhat matter- of-factly.  Needless to say, I was embarrassed.  I knew these were the wrong words even as they escaped my mouth.  What an awful question to ask one who had one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel.  I swallowed hard, looking I’m sure like a deer caught in the headlights.  Eventually in an effort to recover, I managed to say, “Oh well, let’s not even speak of that.”  I was careful not to even mention the word, “death.”  Upon hearing this, this dear heart seemed to muster some strength and determination and she said, “Pastor, why not talk about death?  I’m dying,” she said with a certain finality coupled with a blessed assurance, a certain courage and hope.  “Dying is the most important thing going on with me right now,” she said.  “Talk about death, we must, Pastor.”  So talk about it, we did.

In about five minutes she gave such a fine valedictory.  She shared with me how full her life had been; how she had tried to help somebody as she traveled on; how she played the game of life with great passion, humility and skill with the hand she had been dealt.  She talked about how she had done the best she could with what she had.  She told me she had made many mistakes in her life but she had no regrets.  Then this dying woman did a strange thing.  She reached in a drawer in a stand by the side of her hospital bed and pulled out a whole wad of money and handed it to me saying, “There is $500.00 here.  Put this in the basket for me for the Women’s Fellowship Tea.”  I got a little sensitive about dealing with pecuniary things at the time of death.  This is such a sacred moment, I thought.  So I tried to give the money back to her.  I said, “Sister, don’t worry about money at a time like this.”  She said, “I’m not worried about money.  But I’m going to give it if it’s the last thing I do. For me,” she said “Giving is as sacramental as death.  If I give, death is not the end.  Death has a future.  I’ve always known that giving, hope, faith, and love are stronger than death.  So if I give this money I will go on to Glory knowing that the doors of my church will continue to be open.  A preacher will be there to preach.  The bells of the church will ring.  A choir will be there to sing.  And, somebody will have a clean, well-lit place to shout aloud, “Hallelujah, Amen!”

This good and Godly Christian woman knew how to say, “It is finished.  Goodbye.”  Her goodbye was no cry of defeat.  She knew faith, hope, love, and giving were stronger than death.  Hers was a cry of triumph.  It was a victorious cry that comes in knowing you have done everything God has assigned your hands to do. And, this same God will give you a resting place, a home.

This good lady’s goodbye was reminiscent of our Lord’s “It is finished!” cried from the cross.  It was a victorious cry of hope, faith, love and sacrifice.  Jesus did not leave his followers alone in John’s Gospel. Jesus promised them the gift of the Holy Spirit which would always be with them. To his mother and the disciples whom he loved, he promised the comforting gift of each other and the memory of him especially in the breaking of bread.  Jesus had achieved the purpose for which God sent him and now he could say triumphantly, “It is finished.  In my dying, I know that even death has a future.  Love is stronger than death.  Farewell!  Goodbye!  But take heart! Early one morning on the third day, I shall rise up. Henceforth, I shall be with you always even to the end of the age!!”

In life and death, Lord, you are with us.  In you, there are no goodbyes. Amen.

Knighton Stanley

Published on August 27, 2009 at 4:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

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