It's often stressful to live in a retirement community, saddened by the pain and loss that surrounds one. As friend Ann said at lunch, "Here, suffering is so concentrated." We are bombarded by powerful emotional reactions — a succession of good friends, loved ones, leaving, always leaving. The place echoes the meaning of the Good Friday-Easter event. God loves, weeps for and suffers with us.
When my wife, Irene, and I came to the Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community, Harrisonburg, Va., it seemed like living in a resort hotel: good meals, wellness center with Olympic pool, libraries — all the amenities.
Then friend Charles lost his wife. We served together on our apartment's Bible study committee. Ken, another committee member, and I were in a meeting room, waiting for Charles, who had just returned from Richmond where his wife had failed to survive an operation.
"What am I going to say to him?" Ken wondered.
"I'm just going to hug him and say nothing," I said.
A couple of years later I find myself visiting and hugging Ken too. He lost his wife a month ago, and last week an MRI revealed he has an inoperable cancer.
"Four or five months," he told me.
The pathway here, as it is in most major communities for the elderly, is essentially downhill physically: An independent-living apartment first, then a transfer to an assisted-living facility, and, the last mile — the nursing home. As Ann said, "It's a concentration of the pathway of all human lives." The moment we are born, we begin to die. It's a bit like the situation of slaves generations ago who were sold "down the river" to places where life became more and more painful.
One can complain, some do, and live the remainder of their lives in misery — refusing to accept that there is more beyond Good Friday's suffering. I've discovered an endless, unanticipated field for Christian service and ministry, the ultimate test of Easter faith. Our God of deepest, most sacrificial love is ever-present in this community. We either have a Savior risen from the tortured agony of death or we do not. And we can follow his command to love one another or retreat within ourselves.
There can be no temporizing because no matter our age God's yes must always be yes, and God's no a no. It's why throughout much of my very long life — and especially here near the end of it — I find Martin Luther's theology of the cross so powerful and so hopeful. Many of my neighbors, and I do admire (but pity) them, believe that God as punisher wracks our bodies with pain. We get only what we deserve.
I've grown to think otherwise. At 89 I'm still attending the school of life, learning lessons every day, that the more we help one another, the more we know the meaning and joy of sacrificial care — loving: the meaning of Easter.
Christ is risen!
He is risen, indeed!
Check out this week's articles:
Unemployed?: (right) Tough as it is, there are lessons and blessings.
Communicating hope: Rest in God's promises, go serve your neighbor.
Who gets 'the church' after a divorce?: Stability of congregation important for children in transition.
Music to the soul: Scientist finds God in the vibrations.
May 5-12: Join spouses Debra K. Farrington and Marley Amstutz (right) to discuss unemployment's lessons and blessings.
Consider reading "Unemployed" before joining in.
This week on our blog:
Sonia Solomonson (rigth) blogs about ministries.
Tell us! Pastor goofs
For some of you it was just last Sunday, for others it was years ago. Pastors, please share with us your funniest — yes, likely embarrassing — ministry stories.
The Little Lutheran
(for children 6 and younger)
The Little Christian
(for children 6 and younger)
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