Wednesday, September 21, 2011

If You Knew It was Your Last Day ...

"If you knew you were going to die today, how would you spend your last day on earth?" is how Dad started his new Sunday School class.

Of course that would be on his mind. September 18, 2007, was Mum's last day.

Would you want people running around after you, focusing on you, caring for you? Or would you try to make your imminent passing easier for the ones you love?

Mum made it as easy for us as she could in her last days: She acquiesced to the inevitable. She ministered to her doctors and nurses, both through her words and by her demeanour. She planned her funeral. She spoke with each of us, reassuring us of her love. 

Dad went on to discuss how Jesus spent His last day before He was crucified, as told in the gospel of John, chapters 13-17. Because this is going to be a study, we covered just the first action on Sunday: washing His disciples' feet.

In the culture of the day, washing feet was the lowest task, performed by a menial servant in the household. And yet Jesus, whom His disciples called Master, washed their feet.

A couple of weeks earlier they had been arguing who was going to be the greatest in the kingdom to come. And here He was, indisputably the greatest, washing their feet!

He wasn't thinking about how they could best help Him or comfort Him; He wanted only to serve them, to help them prepare for what was to come. 

He already knew about His imminent death, His resurrection and His ascension. Now He looked to build up those who had been His family for the last three years. Looking at them, thinking about them, He loved them.

There was Thomas, sceptical and unable to take things at face value. In this he was joined to a certain degree by Philip, for whom seeing was believing: "Come and see," he invited the people when talking about Jesus; and he was the one who asked to see the Father, not realizing at this point with Whom he had been travelling and working and just being all that time.

There was Levi, the tax collector, despised by Jew and Roman alike.

There were the Sons of Thunder, zealots, hotheads.

Of course there was Judas; Jesus, knowing that Judas was about to betray Him, still washed his feet ...

And then there was Peter, Peter who had declared some time earlier, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!" As Jesus approached Peter, water pitcher in hand, Peter freaked out. "You shall never wash my feet!" he exclaimed, trying to limit Jesus' actions to accommodate what Peter himself could comprehend. When Jesus explained to him that Peter's foot washing was a symbol of what was truly important - keeping our hearts and minds clean - he pendulumed to the other extreme: "Not just my feet, in that case, but also my head and hands!" he demanded.

This same Peter, no doubt feeling guilty for falling asleep when Jesus had entrusted him to watch and pray for Him in the garden of Gethsemane, would slash off the ear of one of the soldiers who had come for Jesus; shortly after that he would deny the One he loved - three times.

But now Jesus was concentrating on washing His friend's feet.

Jesus already knew all about Peter, knew what he would do and say in the last hours leading up to His death. He already knew that by the end of the night Peter would be a broken man; but He never stopped loving Peter. Dad commented that God's love for us is not contingent on our love for Him; it's not dependent on the good works we do. He doesn't love us less when we fail Him or more when we succeed. I am not the sine qua non, the indispensable cause, for His love. His love for us originates within Himself, and therefore it will not change.

On this remembrance day we gathered after church as a family at Dad's and Mum's house, as many of us as could be there. Dad and Debbie cooked the delicious fare, a traditional Sunday lunch that would have made Mum proud.

Then after lunch Dad presented each of her children with a box. And in each box was a treasure "from me and Mum," he said.

I opened the lid of my box. To my amazement and delight I found, nestled in the green folds of tissue paper, an ancient Chinese bowl that I had long ago told Mum I would love to have some day. The reason I wanted this bowl was not for the intricate hand-painted exterior of the bowl or the magnificent lid, both of which tell a simple story of the human need for love.

What I had always been drawn to with this particular bowl, from when I was quite young, was what I discovered one time on the inside of the bowl:
It had been broken, quite severely at one part of the rim; but for some reason it had not been thrown away. Instead, a loving craftsman had carefully drilled tiny holes through the china and wired the fragments back together again. Then he had delicately applied a thin veneer of varnish to the outside of the bowl to seal the crack and to smooth the surface. 

The bowl is able to hold water, able to be used, able to display its beauty - a beauty intensified by its prior damage - because someone had valued it enough to gather up the shards and to rebuild it. 

The bowl reminded me of Peter. Peter, who was shattered the night that Jesus was captured and put on trial and condemned to die. 

After Jesus rose from the dead, one of His first tasks was to begin gathering up the shards of His friend's life. "Go tell my disciples, and Peter ..." He instructed in the sixteenth chapter of Mark's gospel. Later He asked Peter - three times - "Peter, do you love Me?" It was almost like He was drilling infinitesimally tiny holes into Peter's soul. 

Finally, in anguish, unable to bear it any more, Peter replied, "Lord, You know all things. You know that I love you."

Then Jesus started to thread the wires through those piercings in an action that would put Peter back together again, that would make him a vessel able to be used again, with His words, "Feed My sheep." And Peter was restored.

The bowl reminds me of myself, too. Sometimes the exterior glaze on the surface camouflages the tell-tale cracks inside. But God loves me despite myself; and so many times He has taken the splinters and knit them back together again. Then He has provided someone to come into my life and apply the fine glaze over the scar so that I can carry on, so that I can be filled and used in His service.

What a privilege it is to be able to have an example of how to die well from my Mum! What a privilege it is for all of us to be able to see how Jesus used the last hours of His life to build up and to prepare and to simply love His disciples!

And what a privilege it is to be able to see my father, who knows he probably doesn't have too many years left on this earth, already seeking out ways to build up, to repair, to minister, to let people know that they have value because God Himself loves them despite themselves.

A privilege indeed to see him gently apply a coat of glaze to the soul wounds that have been repaired by the Master's own pierced hands so that the people He sends Dad to minister to feel that they have value, that they can be of service, that they are loved.


  1. Last time I thought it was my last day, I went back to bed -- there was no one around anyway, and I was so tired. I later heard from Mr. Gretzky's father that I did the opposite of the right thing. So what am I doing here writing this years later? Still lucky I guess.

  2. And all our lives are the richer for it, Andy!

  3. and you carry on what your parents so faithfully laid down, karyn.

    as one who has been broken, drilled through, bound back up and sealed over, He is using *you* to minister to others who feel shattered beyond repair.

    you are leaving a beautiful legacy behind - one that points always to His grace and His life is one that has been touched by Him through you.


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