"Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love's sake. Amen." Book of Common Prayer, pg 134.
We were on a family rotation of every three hours at her bedside. We were the workers, the watchers, the weepers. We were weary.
And she was dying.
Someone remained near her day and night--no more nurses, just her steadfast husband, devoted children, and me, a different kind of daughter. Sometimes music filled the background; during the day, light streamed through the shutters changing angles over the sun’s course across the sky. The sound of the oxygen machine, forcing its life into her, rhythmically clicked and hissed. We were servants of the clock, waiting for each next dose, waiting for relief. Our ears perked at any change in her-- a turn, a shift, or a murmur.
During one such shift, I pondered what it meant to suffer. Reminding myself that our care for her was calculated to keep her comfortable, I realized that I selfishly dwelt with my own suffering: missing my children who had already said their heartbroken goodbyes, keeping up with work from home, juggling the generous help of friends, passing Joe in the night for our shifts. I looked at her, peaceful, quiet.
She waited for Paradise. It was we who suffered.
Sitting there, I closed my eyes. In my mind, I drew the room I was in: the furniture and decorations of their lovely family home; the equipment, newly installed for this goodbye mission; and her, there, but not there.
And then my mind drew Jesus in the chair next to the bed. He sat, holding her hand. Looking at me. Waiting with us. Waiting for her. No smile. No words. In fact, He looked as sad and tired as I felt.
But He was there.
And when I opened my eyes, I could see Him there still. I blinked, and I hesitated, but the image of my Jesus that I conjured in my imagination endured beyond my mind into my reality. He looked at me. And He waited.
My Jesus, who knew the death of a friend, who watched back from the cross as his loved ones watched him endure human death, who himself died, sat. Here.
While I blamed sheer exhaustion for the apparition, I paused to recognize Godly presence-- the
one that’s always there, but the presence we only acknowledge in our own deepest need.
My vision only lasted until I left the room, but I recalled it each time I returned. I shared it with Joe because to share it felt that much more real, and I knew he needed the image too.
God’s presence endured beyond those moments. That experience sustained me over two more exhausting days of waiting and in the days that followed our loss; I knew Jesus had waited for her, just as He had waited with me.
In the three years since, Lent’s focus on sacrifice and loss, all culminating in the imminent death of our Lord Jesus, puts me through the rigors of grief and suffering. The foretelling readings of Lent as we work to Passion Sunday and Good Friday send my mind swirling around memories of waiting, and enduring, and knowing what’s coming, but dreading it. I remind myself that Lent offers something that, as Christians, earthly suffering can promise too: Easter, resurrection, and new life.
We know that we can endure Lent. Regardless of what we give up, regardless of where our pondering minds wander, Jesus waits with us through the process.
Hold an image in your mind of Jesus waiting with you through these days of Lenten reflection. Forty days of prayer, sacrifice, and awareness can be exhausting, but Jesus waits for us to join Him on the other side of Lent.
He waits with the promise of the Easter message, that is, hope—the promise of forever.
The Doctrine of Christian Hope from the Catechism asks “What is the Christian hope?” The answer: “The Christian hope is to live with confidence in newness and fullness of life, and to await the coming of Christ in glory, and the completion of God's purpose for the world.”
And so we live. And we wait. And I believe, here and now, that Jesus waits with us.
Laura Soule Boyles is full-time wife to Joe, mother to Cannon, Sarah, and William, and teacher at Episcopal Day School. She enjoys words, wine, and weekends.