II: Cor. II:3-5
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, 4who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. 5For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ.
I recently assisted in providing some end of life care for a man who was diagnosed with cancer in February of 2013. On Tuesday, January 21st of this year I officiated his celebration of life – and it was quite a celebration. This was a man full of life and of verve, a man who lived every day to its fullest even before he received his diagnosis. He was a man who loved life, and who was head-over-heels in love with his wife of almost 16 years.
As his condition began to deteriorate physically, he and his mother-in-law would at times fuss over each other as they got around the house together. She is getting on in years, he was frail, and still being a gentleman throughout his illness insisted he help her walking around, getting up, sitting down — and she would attempt to do the same for him. Finally, after a few bids at who was going to help who, she placed her hand on his arm and his hand on her arm, exclaiming:
Well, if we fall, then we’re just going to fall together!
This is a family that I have experienced living out the call of Romans 12 in how they treat each other, seeking to show mutual love and affection and to outdo one another in hospitality. Here were two people, each with their own physical and emotional limitations, each at a different place in their lives, and each looking at mortality from different perspectives. However, they banded together in their collective weakness and contributed a beautiful expression of love and inter-dependence to this world in which we live.
Linking arms is an important symbol. It is a symbol of mutual support, respect, and love. Linking arms can be as intimate as mother-in-law and son-in-law outdoing one another in hospitality, or as cosmic as creating a movement that echoes the world ’round
When arms link together in weakness, oppression, doubt, or despair, strength most undoubtedly emerges.
We stood at the graveside and I looked around. On the horizon in every direction were damaged houses being repaired or a slab where a house once stood and a home was once made. As I walked at the head of the casket and pallbearers, I noticed that the tombstone nearest his interment was the grave of a boy who only lived to be six. Here, a man dying before his time and a woman who cherished the years she had with him, even in the midst of a desire to have more. There, a young boy and parents bereft of their parenthood, the site still festooned with Christmas teddy bears, candy canes, and tinsel … So much grief and loss …
“What in the hell is going on?” I remember thinking to myself as we sang Surely the Presence together at the graveside, as I read the words of the distraught sister to Jesus, “If you had just been here my brother wouldn’t have died!”
And there, as I read the words of Jesus, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me, even though they perish, so shall they live,” I thought back to the story that the man’s mother-in-law told me as I gathered with the family. I thought of all of the thousands of people that had walked through that cemetery and through this community cleaning and re-building, I thought of the people who knew and loved this man and his wife flooding their lives with prayers and support, and I felt an overwhelming sense of linked arms.
The loving wife and mother-in-law no longer have the same arm to join with, the parents of the six-year-old boy no longer have this life intermingling with theirs, but there were people there supporting this woman, some who also had their lives dramatically altered by a loved one dying of cancer, and I was drawn to Paul’s words to the church in Corinth. We know a God
“4who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. 5For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ.”
In our weakness, we link arms. We join together. We, as best as we can, live in solidarity with those who are suffering.
In our weakness, though we are stronger together, there is something comforting and something overwhelmingly beautiful about the knowledge that there is someone willing to fall with us.