A couple of weeks ago we remembered we are dust and to dust we shall return and then spent the week reflecting on our brokenness, sin and looming death. Last week on Ash Wednesday I learned that a friend of mine had died. He didn’t die on Ash Wednesday, he died about a month or so before. My friend Paul died without my knowing it, and this Lent as I reflect on death, I can not help but think of Paul.
I met Paul about eight years ago at a Bible study. My first, and lasting, memory of Paul is as someone who loved the Bible. That had not always been the case. Paul grew up in Wisconsin and loved to make jokes about cold winters and lutefisk. He spent some time in Lutheran churches across the country and picked up enough to know he was a sinner and didn’t want to be Lutheran. Paul spent most of his adult life fleeing from God as his marriage and family dissolved and he lost himself in alcoholism. As an older man Paul recognized his need for help and started down the long road of recovery. Paul was an active attender of AA meetings and sponsored as many young men as seemed healthy. Even in the midst of recovery, Paul still wasn’t sure about God.
Paul finally met God by reading Scripture. Paul developed a friendship with a Buddhist woman and they decided it made sense to read through the Bible together. Amazingly, they just kept reading chunks at a time, undirected, asking and answering questions as they went. By the time I met Paul he was beginning his third time through and was actively seeking a church home. Paul and I quickly became friends because we both loved scripture and because Paul spoke with an amazing level of honesty. Paul had seen enough to know that there was no point in wasting time with falsities.
Paul was a walking contradiction. He spent his entire life as nurse, but had never been a patient. Paul’s lungs began to fail him, and finally he was admitted to the hospital. I visited him just before Christmas and in his normal Paul, former nurse and recovering addict way, he walked me through all of his ailments. I made some jokes and tried to laugh my way through this meeting, but Paul wouldn’t have it. He stared at me from his hospital bed, disoriented from the medication and said, “I am scared, Greg.” This level of honesty is paralyzing. We both stayed silent for a bit before we decided to pray together. Paul went home after this, celebrated Christmas with his son, and in the next couple of weeks died.
Paul is not scared anymore, but is at rest in the presence of God.
This lent as I reflect on death and loss, grief and brokenness, I keep thinking of my friend Paul. “I am scared.” I have thought about this a lot this Lent, and I don’t think my friend was scared of death. Paul was as sure of the resurrection as anyone I know, partially because he had already experienced so much of it in his own life. He knew first hand that God could bring life out death. Paul was scared of the pain, loneliness and isolation of being sick. We are all sick like this. We all know that if we were really vulnerable, if we share the broken parts of us with others, if we our too honest with our pain, we will certainly be left alone. We can not fathom a community that could love us through our real selves, much less a God who could love us in the midst of that sort of sinfulness. This Lent we must be reminded again and again that God walked amongst us and took on our sinfulness specifically so we would not be left alone. If Ash Wednesday and Lent remind us that we can not get out of life alive, Jesus reminds us that we will not live life alone.
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