Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Doing Others' Homework, Part III: Philippians 4

(Third in a series. I'm writing meditations on Scripture for people at my church who did not do their homework for a booklet to be published in - house for Lent 2009. If the person does come through before we go to press, I guess no one will ever read this except on the blog.)

WEDNESDAY, April 9

Phil. 4:1-13 Finally, brethren. . .

Like a suspenseful movie, our lectionary puts all the good guys in jeopardy as the violent climax approaches. Night is coming on in Jerusalem, as Jesus foretells his imminent death. Meanwhile, facing death in prison, Paul writes what might be his last words to his friends in Philippi.

What wonderful last words! Even incomplete phrases from Paul's final chapter bring to mind whole sentences and songs: Rejoice in the Lord always. . . Have no anxiety about anything . . . the peace of God which passes all understanding. . . whatever is true, whatever is honorable. . . I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content . . . I can do all things in him. . . His words carry affection, gratitude, and encouragement, even today.

There is no moment in a movie more certain to make us cry than when a character, dying, says what has been in his heart all along, but he never had the courage to say it. In some movies the feeling is worse, because the words are spoken over a grave, or they arrive in a message, too late.

The first person I met at St. James was an elderly woman with stooped back and twinkling eyes. Though hampered by a walker, she directed me from the foyer around two corners to the sanctuary down the hall. For the next several weeks, she greeted me warmly. During services, she smiled at the music, laughing easily. And then she stopped being there. I'd never introduced myself by name; I never knew hers. Did she have family? Could she have used help? Could I have eased her final illness?

Let's be more like Paul, and live every day as our last, without fear. When you're not afraid to die, then you're not afraid to live.

(P.S. The last line comes from a comedy number in Stephen Sondheim's score for THE FROGS.)

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