This past Wednesday night was a rough one: my cousin, same age as me, from California, had to watch her mother die after a long bout with cancer. Shortly after that one of my best friends from junior high and high school, again, same age as me, saw his mother give her last breath after the cancer of the lung had penetrated the bone: her body gradually collapsed after all the treatment could do absolutely nothing to help her. Now I would be lying if I said I was close with either of them who died. I had met Judy a couple of times when I was in Los Angeles, but it was her father, my grandfather's brother, whom I have some of the fondest memories of from my childhood. I obviously knew Sue as her son and I grew up together in Upper Sandusky, and plenty of good times in the countryside of Wyandot County in Ohio.
But the sorrow is moreso for the children who are too close to my age for comfort, Minnewa and Mark, who had to watch their mothers fight this terrible disease with all they had and still come up short; women who shaped their children into wonderful human beings, filled with compassion and humility and intelligence and dedication to their work and their family. Their mothers raised incredible people whom I have the utmost privilege to call friends. But now Minnewa and Mark have lost a critical foundation to their life. They no longer have the support system that was always there through the pivotal years of growing up into who they are today.
Of course, as their mothers went through the numerous radiations and chemotherapy treatments, Minnewa and Mark's emotions were all over the map, including, quite understandably so, anger. In California, Judy had the benefit of going to the UCLA Medical Center, one of the top cancer hospitals in the country, but it obviously wasn't enough. Sue was diagnosed with lung cancer after not smoking a single day in her life. She even went to the James Cancer Institute on the campus of Ohio State, one of the top cancer research institutions in the world, but, in the end, nothing could be done to help her.
Not millions, but billions of dollars have been raised over the years to research one of the most feared diseases in recent memory. Some of the most brilliant medical minds in our generation work day and night, and still no cure. Now, yes, the research has saved many lives. There has been significant improvement in the quality of life for numerous cancer patients all over the world, but of course that doesn't offer comfort to the families who had to watch their loved ones do everything they were supposed to, go to all the treatments they could, and still face the reality that this dreaded disease continued to tear their body apart. The truth is they should be angry. The children of all mothers and fathers who die should be upset. And at no point should we ever tell them that they shouldn't be angry.
I'm thankful for the writer of Ephesians, part of which we heard in the second reading this morning, including, "Be angry but do not sin." We human beings have a tendency to get angry, to say the least, and as the world continues into a more fast-paced instantaneous-access way of living, in return, our fuses become shorter and shorter from road rage to waiting at doctor's offices and restaurants. And we unleash a massive fury on those who don't live up to our expectations as to how our life should be run, and not wasting our precious time, and no one should ever make any mistakes when it comes to our obviously "more valuable than everyone else's" life. The sin of course is thinking that God loves us more than everyone else, as if we feel this sense of entitlement to run the world as we see fit because, of course, we have this special connection with God that others possibly cannot. We have such an audacity about ourselves that we will even tell others how they should feel in response to their loved one's death.
We will tell the families not to be angry; that everything is going to be okay. Well, it's not okay. It's not okay that my great-uncle had to watch his daughter die. It's not okay that Minnewa and Mark can no longer get their mom on the phone after a rough day at work. In reality, it's more than okay for them to be angry, because anger shows how much they loved, how much they cared, how much they never wanted to let them go. It's more than okay for them to be overwhelmed with sadness. It's more than okay that they're frustrated, that they don't want to talk, that they've had it, that they want to wake up and have it all be just a dream. It's more than okay to feel all of that and everything in between when one of your most basic assurances of life is torn away from you.
And yet, after all that is said and done, the greater assurance still remains for both Trudy and Sue: God sent Jesus for them too. Long before they came to be, Jesus had them in mind all the way to the cross. Come to think of it I imagine there was a bit of anger that drove Jesus all the way to Calvary. I like to think Jesus was angry at the thought that death had this stronghold over God's children, over us. I like to think Jesus was so furious with that possibility that that's part of what drove him to carry that cross all the way up the hill.
Nevertheless, in the end, it was love that won the Easter day. It was love that saved us all from our own sin and death, including Judy and Sue. It will be love from family and friends that will help Minnewa and Mark in the days ahead. It will be love that raises us up on the last day into a Kingdom with no more death, no more crying, no more sadness, no more anger, just life in all its fullness for eternity. May it be so now for Judy and Sue, and for all the children of God at rest forevermore. And for that ultimate victory of the Resurrection that has and will swallow up all the anger we have to muster, we give thanks to this God of everlasting life indeed. Amen.
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Nan Dehnke, Pastor
Office: Mon - Thu: 9 a.m. - Noon