Mankind possesses an incredible capacity to endure. Given time we can adapt to almost any circumstance that arises. Not that it is always pleasant or happy or something we want to write home about, but we have this way of pressing through some really difficult times. We’ve all heard the stories of heroic wilderness explorers or survivors lost at sea and we simply marvel at their ability to endure when so many others would have simply given up. But the truth of the matter is that we don’t have to search out stories of the extreme survivor for examples human endurance. In fact, I think one of the most overlooked locations of the quiet resilience of mankind is found within the lives of the elderly.
Those from our communities who’ve passed through their so called ‘golden years’ and have found themselves moving slowly through their wanning days are champions of human endurance. They endure loss that I can only imagine, loss that I fear and view only as a nightmare. Loss of children, loss of their bride, loss of mobility and eyesight and hearing. These losses mount up upon them, they seem to increase with a great rate of speed towards the end, like a snowball growing larger and larger as it rolls down the hill. One grief and separation is compounded by another then another then a whole avalanche of obstacles that impinge on the living of one’s life.
The reason we don’t often see our white-haired brothers and sisters as champions of endurance is that they simply don’t speak of it. They don’t write books about their loss; we don’t follow them on social media or see documentaries on this part of their life. Instead, they reside in care facilities, or they simply stay home. We don’t see their champion spirit anymore; we don’t get a chance to watch them as they face yet another setback of health with the same resolve that they gave up their drivers license or moved away from their independence.
It is with this same quiet resolve that they faced the pandemic. As the world shut down and tensions rose in our country, as fears about a deadly virus and loss of employment drifted through society, as drug addiction and suicide attempt were on the rise, we didn’t hear much from our most enduring members. Oh, we heard about nursing home deaths and weren’t shocked by the immediate lockdown of such care facilities, but we didn’t hear much from the people themselves. Did they suffer? Did they weep? Were they afraid? Sure, they were, but they endured in silence.
As things are beginning to open back up around here, I was finally able to get into one of our residential care facilities to meet with a member of my church that I hadn’t been able to visit in about 13 months. He is a good man, always happy to have his pastor come and visit. He is stern and strong willed, but he has suffered much loss. I was there when he and his bride first moved into the facility, I was there when he laid his wife to rest, and for quite a while I had visited him regularly to bring him the gifts of our Lord. But for the past 13 months I wasn’t there.
As we made it back to his room (after I was thoroughly scanned and questioned) we picked up our conversation just like I had never been gone. He had endured, without making much of a fuss he simply pressed on. We started working slowly through the liturgy as we prepared to receive the Lord’s Supper together. But then something happened that caught me off guard. Perhaps I should have expected it, but somehow, I fell right back into the old patterns.
After he had confessed his sins, I stood before him prepared to proclaim forgiveness in the stead and by the command of my Lord and I asked, “Do you believe that my forgiveness is God’s forgiveness for you?” And when he said “yes” he immediately broke down in tears. It wasn’t just a little tear rolling down his cheek, this strong and stern man began to sob. He had longed to hear the word proclaimed, longed to hear a voice speak into his life the forgiveness that Christ secured. 13 months was too long for God to be silent, too long to endured by himself, too long to keep his stoic façade in place.
I began to tear up myself. I felt ashamed and guilty. Amos had prophesied, “’Behold, the days are coming,’ declares the Lord God, ‘when I will send a famine on the land—not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.’” I can’t imagine a more terrible plague.
I said the only thing I could, no personal promises, no temporal assurances, I reach down to by longing brother and said, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all of your sins, in the name of the Father, and the of the Son and on the Holy Spirit.” Amen.