As I left home and headed for this office this morning, an ambulance was parked outside my neighbor’s house. Now, my neighbor happens to be an elderly gentleman, whose wife passed away several months ago. And while I know that his children have been doing an excellent job of caring for him, I have little doubt that his life has been radically altered by the absence of the woman with whom he shared more than 60 years — and that his heart has been yearning for the reunion that they will one day share.
I do not yet know whether that reunion came today. The early hour and the presence of paramedics made this morning an awkward time to drop in and see what was happening. But upon arriving in the office, I was greeted by an Old Testament reading (Genesis 49:29 to 50:14) that relates the story of the death of Jacob; and in so doing, it offers one of those wonderful phrases that invites us to think in a new way. Jacob, the scripture tells us, “drew his feet up into the bed, breathed his last and was gathered to his people” (49:33; emphasis added).
We conceive of death in so many ways: as an enemy…as an end…as an absence…as a departure. But what if — in the deepest places of our hearts — we truly believed it to be a “gathering to our people”? What if we anticipated the kind of homecoming and reunion that points to the deep togetherness for which we were created? After all, isn’t this what Jesus must have meant when he said that he was “going to prepare a place” — not for “you” as an isolated individual — but for “ya’ll” (all the “you’s” in John 14:1-4 are plural) — for the family of people into which we’ve been adopted through the cross and resurrection of Jesus?
Like most pastors, I’ve got any number of people in my church who are facing the reality of death — in the death of friends, the death of family members, even the impending death of themselves. And I pray for them. I pray for their strength and healing. I pray for their comfort and endurance. But along with these things, perhaps I need to pray more for their (and our) “joyful anticipation.” Because a day will come when each of us will be “gathered to our people.” And “what a day, glorious day, that will be.”
May you love and be loved by your people today. And may every gathering simply whet your appetite for The Gathering yet to come.