What do you say when you know it’s the last thing you’ll say? How do you choose your words when you know that there won’t be another tomorrow to say the things that go unsaid today?
We use so many words throughout life, many of them fairly careless and insubstantial, spoken out of the ease-inducing sense that neither today nor tomorrow will be our last. We live with that unspoken confidence in the undetected privilege of continuity.
So life doesn’t give us much practice for last words. Most of our days are spent plodding along life’s journey, neither at the beginning nor at the end of our various seasons. So like the wedding ceremony or the firstborn’s birth or the graduation, no one gets in too much practice.
Perhaps it’s just as well that our last words are often simple, bare, unimpressive. We tend to love beginnings, for all their hope; and endings, for all their sentiment. Yet in many ways it’s the granite middle that counts — who we are and how we live and what we say in the routine of life, unfueled by the anticipations of the starting line and unmoved by the nostalgia of the goodbye.
Nevertheless, God has created a world of time, of memories, of beginnings and endings. A world of summer and winter, springtime and harvest. A world of hello’s and goodbye’s. Which is why we have last words.
I spoke a few tonight. Not well prepared, because simple faithfulness alone is demanding overtime these days, and because finishing well is perhaps the best farewell of all. And not profound, because last words are monumental only because of the moment. They don’t find their power in profundity but in provenness. So we say the most basic things, things that in the normal course of events seem justifiably ignorable, because we heard them yesterday and we’ll hear them tomorrow. Yet we forget that it’s at sunset that the sun tosses its most brilliant rays onto the blanket of clouds.
It’s a strange thing to come home, flop on the bed with the family, wrestle with and read to the son, and then settle into the living room chair and consider how quickly last words come and go. All of a sudden they’re here, being spoken, being heard.
So we get to those last moments, and we just choose. And perhaps it’s just as well. There’s no virtue in being unprepared, but you can’t script everything. Death, for most of us, will be quite unscripted. Why not our many other end-points along the way?
After all, perhaps the sun is trying to tell us something at sunset. Maybe it’s trying to tell us, “Light is not just light. Light is beauty.” It may be that every evening the sun is making the kind of statement that you can only make at the end of it all, the kind of statement that makes us all just stop and watch it each day for a few seconds, even though it’s been journeying through the sky for the previous twelve hours, too. Maybe it’s saying, “Let me tell you, right here at the end, that the light you’ve seen all along really is beautiful. Can you see it now, through the magnifying lens of the moment? Give me one last chance to convince you that light is beautiful. It really is beautiful. I’m leaving now, so remember this.”
Like the sun at sunset, we’re not saying new things when we say last things. We’re just saying those things that have become gloriously normal because they are gloriously true.
So tonight, I pillow my head with the last words of that great cloud of witnesses ringing in my mind. Moses said, “Be strong and courageous (Deut 31:6). Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Paul said, “I have fought the good fight” (2 Tim 4:7). And John said, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev 22:20).