Although this article is titled, ‘Last Times’ it is not about the end of the world, and so on.
I have wanted to write this article for some time, but, I was spurred into action now by an evening call a few days ago to tell me that my older sister had suffered a stroke and was in ICU. Just that morning, I had felt prompted to phone her to hear how she was doing, but I got busy with something else and didn’t get around to it. Thankfully, she is now recovering well, and I spoke to her and it seems she will soon regain her strength and mobility.
When I spoke to her I said something that I haven’t said to her in all 75 years of my life; I said “I want you to know that I love you and that you are very special to me.”
I grew up in an age when family and society taught us that emotions were to be experienced but seldom articulated. So, speaking this out aloud to someone other than my wife, children or granddaughters, is still a bit strange for me. Things could have turned out very differently and I might have missed an important ‘Last Time’ with my sister.
Times I Have Missed it
At times when I preach to a congregation that I have not previously addressed and who are outside of my usual circle, I ask the following question of myself: “If this is the only time you preach here, then what is the most important thing you need to say to them now?” This was easy to ask, answer, and do because it wasn’t ‘in the moment’ and I had plenty of time to prepare. Some of my more spontaneous Last Times have not been at all like that.
My parents lived in the Cape while my family and I lived in Gauteng. I remember the time I saw my mother for the last time. I knew that she did not have long to live in this world and that I probably would not see her again. Yet I did not know what to say to her. So, I said things that I thought were encouraging and light, but I wished later that I had spoken from the heart and thanked her for all she meant to me and had done for me… but I didn’t, and instead missed a significant ‘Last Time’ moment.
I spent over three decades trying to build and support a local church. However, when I walked out of its campus for the last time I again missed a ‘Last Time’.
It would have been far better for me if I had taken a few minutes to quietly stand still and respond to this Last Time. To perhaps thank God for the experiences of being part of the church, for the many wonderful people I had met and learned to know, and for the privilege he had given me when he entrusted that community to me for so many years.
I have missed several other significant moments over my lifetime, and I know that if I had them over again I would want to do and speak differently. However, I cannot re-live what is passed, none of us can, but perhaps I can learn to respond differently in future. Can you think of occasions when you have missed or responded poorly to ‘Last Times’?
How Not to Miss it
How can we avoid missing these important moments? Well, the Lord Jesus is our model in all things and so it would be good to reference perhaps his most poignant Last Time. It is quite a long account, but worth reproducing it here.
The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” Jesus answered, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. “I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture: ‘He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.’ “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He. I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.”
After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.” His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.” Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. “What you are about to do, do quickly,” Jesus told him, but no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the Feast, or to give something to the poor. As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.
When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
This was the last meal that Jesus shared with his disciples before his crucifixion. Indeed, it was the last time he celebrated the Passover meal with them. He was fully aware that this was a most important Last Time and he made the very most of it. He demonstrated the time-enduring Christian principle of servant-leadership and instructed them to do for each other as he had done for them. And then, with this as the backdrop, he pronounced the ‘New Commandment’ that was to define Christianity for all time:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
What then can we learn from Jesus’ example? At least the following:
- Strive to be aware when we are experiencing a Last Time, despite confusion or strong emotion.
- Take some time to pause and ponder. Don’t be like me, a person who habitually gallops past the present to get to the future as quickly as possible.
- Do and say what is of greatest importance to you at that moment and what is most necessary to be heard and received. Not what we think we ought, but what we know intuitively to be right. The proviso is, of course, not to allow negative or destructive emotions to influence what we do or say in that moment.
- What we say to others in these Last Times sometimes stays with them and affects them considerably. The disciples must have often recounted to each other what Jesus said to them the last time they celebrated Passover with him.
“In life, there are countless firsts and even more lasts. The firsts are easy to recognize; when you’ve never experienced something before – a kiss, a new style of music, a place, a drink, a food – you know exactly when you are encountering it for the first time. But lasts? Lasts nearly always surprise us. It’s only after they’ve disappeared that we realize we’ll never again have that particular moment or person or experience.”
― Frances de Pontes Peebles