Third Sunday of Advent
Sunday, December 16, 2012
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
I stopped by to visit her earlier in the week. Her husband answered the door. He offered a word of welcome and as he did the family dog made a mad dash for the front door and began barking.
Their teenage daughter was not far behind. She stepped forward and with one sweeping gesture scooped him off the floor into her arms and proceeded to reassure him that I was a welcomed visitor.
“Come, come, come,” he said as we comforted each other with a quick embrace.
I followed him down a short hallway to the bedroom. A hospital bed lay perpendicular to a king-sized bed.
“Look who’s here!” he said as we both sat down at the foot of the king sized bed and leaned towards her. Their daughter came in and the dog, now back on the floor, was not far behind.
“It’s Kahu. Remember we talked about having him come to offer you a blessing.”
I noticed right away that she was emaciated and her skin had turned ashen. The cancer had taken its toll. Her head moved from side to side. She kept stretching her arms forward and then raising them in back of her head making gestures with what seemed to be no real purpose. She did not speak.
“She just woke up,” he explained. “It’ll take her awhile to be fully awake.”
I remembered we had agreed earlier in the week that it would be best for me to stop following her afternoon nap. He was now her primary caregiver and he seemed keenly aware of her needs.
“What? You thirsty?” he asked.
She nodded a “Yes.”
“Okay,” he said. He left the room for a moment and returned from the kitchen with a cup of tea and a spoon.
I watched as he dipped the spoon into the cup and lifted it gently to her lips.
“Come on. That’s it,” he would say. “One more. Come on, open. Okay, one more.”
He repeated what he had said earlier as if to remind her, “Kahu came to offer you a blessing.”
After she became more settled he said, “Now you and Kahu can visit.”
“ I come back,” he said reassuring her as he left the room.
I wasn’t sure what to say and before I could even say a word, she turned towards me and looked at me directly and touched the side of my face with her right hand.
She did not say a word but in that moment I could see her speaking through her eyes, “It’s okay!” she said. “It’s okay. I am going to be okay. It almost time.”
She died three days later.
I met with her husband, their daughter, son and the dog here yesterday. Preparations were made to take some of her ashes out into the waters of Maluaka Beach with the help of a friend who had a canoe.
Afterward the ashes and lei were placed in the ocean, we sat down to a breakfast prepared by his friend. During the course of our time together he said, “I was with her when she took her last breath. In that moment, I saw how beautiful she was.”. “Beauty isn’t about what we see on the outside but about what we see coming from the inside,” I added. I thought about how easy for us to get caught up in the things external to ourselves, especially in the face of death. We notice the physical deterioration that comes with death
As people of faith we look forward to the promise of a new life to come. Despite the deterioration, death does not become an end in itself but a beginning, a new transition into another life.
Amid the pain and sorrow that we experience through the death of a loved one we hold fast to the promise that even death itself will pass. So there is no fear.
Our readings this morning come from The Book of Zephaniah and The Gospel According to Luke. Both share a common voice in the biblical declaration: “Do not fear.” For Zephaniah it is a declaration made to the people that God will save the lame and gather the outcast. “Do not fear . . . do not let your hands grow weak.” (Zephaniah 3:16)
For Luke, the declaration goes out to Zechariah, the husband of Elizabeth. Ironically, it is the uncertainty of birth, not death, that haunts Zechariah. “Do not be afraid Zechariah for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth shall bear you a son, and you will call him John.” (Luke 1:13)
Even Mary who is pregnant with Jesus appears to be fearful. “Do not be afraid Mary for you have found favor with God.” (Luke 1:30). Soon afterward the declaration is made to shepherds keeping watch over their sheep. “Do not be afraid, for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.” (Luke 2:10)
Deborah Block, a Presbyterian pastor, points out that as human beings we are afraid of many things. “We fear that God is not in our midst and that the enemies of good and God are winning. We fear that our hands are weak and powerless, atrophied by lack of useful work and helpful use . . . we fear insignificance, doubting that we matter in the course of events and dreading that we will be crushed by them. We fear political defeat and natural disaster.”
“We fear shame and reproach, that our faults and foibles will be discovered
and render us less than the person we had fooled ourselves and others
into thinking we were. We are afraid that we won’t have enough,
won’t be enough. We even fear that God may not keep God’s
promises . . . ” (Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 1, Bartlett and Taylor, Westminster Press, John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2009, page 54) Zephaniah’s word to the people of God acknowledges our fear and but moves forward with the promise of a transforming joy.
The declaration of the angels to Zephaniah, Mary and the shepherds is one that is made to us as well as we prepare to remember and celebrate the birth of the One whose sandals John proclaims he is unworthy to untie. Zephaniah reminds the people that God will restore their fortune and if “God can restore the fortunes of a nation bowed down before the powers of the world and dragged away into slavery, then God can also banish our fears . . . ” (Ibid., page 53)
Luke reminds us that if we are to look forward beyond our own fears then we must focus our lives on the love of God and the love and care of ourselves and our neighbors. That reminder is reflected in the response of John the Baptizer to the crowds, tax collectors and soldiers. (Luke 3:10-14) We “must share, keep no more than we need, be fair, treat others with care, and be honest.” (Ibid., page 71)
My friend is gone but her love of God, her love of others, her love of self remains. She loved and she was loved. May it be said of us at the time of our deaths that we also loved and were loved.
Thanks be to God. Amen.