This week, I was doing some routine end-of-summer administrative stuff. Scheduling, planning, phone calls, that sort of thing. I was clearing out old emails (like, embarrassingly old) and came across a short exchange between me and my colleague Pastor Tommi, sent a few weeks before she died. Tommi shared her October newsletter article, describing her cancer diagnosis and prognosis, I responded, and she replied to my response. Tommi’s email ended with the words, “See you soon.”
I didn’t see her again. Tommi’s cancer was fast-moving and deadly. When I reread her email, I was sad, happy, amused, disappointed, and, finally, when I saw the words “See you soon,” I was angry. We didn’t get to see each other, soon or otherwise, and why? Because of disease and death.
Yes, of course, I believe as Tommi did in the forgiveness of sin, the communion of saints, the resurrection of the dead, and the life everlasting, but that seems like it’s an awful long way away, not “soon.”
Then I remembered a scene from C. S. Lewis’ Narnia books. Aslan, the lion who represents Jesus, is talking with Lucy, the first and youngest child to visit the magical land of Narnia. Aslan says, “Do not look sad. We shall meet again soon.” Lucy replies, “Please, Aslan, what do you call soon?” Aslan answers, “I call all times soon.”
Our ideas about timing are not quite the same as God’s, are they? Especially where grief and loss come in. When we want now, we often get not yet, and when we’d prefer next year, we sometimes hear tomorrow. In the moments of grief, we lose long-term perspective as everything slows down to a minute-by-minute crawl. How can we consider eternal life as soon when death is right now?
Jesus, in his last words in the gospel of Matthew, spoke a promise: “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” It’s possible to see how C. S. Lewis imagined that “all times are soon” to God who promises to be with us in every moment, even until time itself ends. What, after all, is a year or a decade or more when at its end will come the life that never ends? No matter how long we find ourselves waiting in this life, Jesus has promised and prepared a new life that never ends.
Maybe, just maybe, Tommi was right, and the response to death isn’t “Goodbye,” but “See you soon” in the kingdom of God where all God’s children live forever.
God of life, I know that you will forever be with me and all who follow you. When death and grief strike, help me trust the promise of Jesus to be with us always. Turn my eyes to the soon-coming day when I will be reunited with all the faithful in the life that never ends. Amen.