A word of thanks
This month I simply wish to express, on behalf of our family, a warm word of thanks for all the kindnesses shown towards us following the death of my mother. Cards, flowers, texts and various expressions of sympathy have been overwhelming and your kindness has been deeply touching. The Manse variously looks like a card shop and a florists.
On the morning Mum died I sent a text and email which read ‘Mum went to be with the Lord at 5am this morning. The warrior’s struggle is over.’ This pretty much summed things up. Rev John Fairful of Bargeddie, who conducted the funeral service, referred to her ‘home call’. She has gone home to the Lord she loved, and so we do not grieve as those who have no hope; and yet she did so at the conclusion of a very long struggle with Multiple Sclerosis, a condition she developed in the mid 1970’s.
Reflecting on his own experience of hardship and suffering, the apostle Paul wrote:
‘Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.’ (Colossians 1:25)
Paul is not describing some kind of twisted masochism that takes pleasure in the experience of adversity. These are not the words of someone who takes some morbid satisfaction in discomfort and difficulty, but rather Paul sees, in his suffering for the gospel, the route to greater fruitfulness and greater blessing for the fellowship of believers. For THAT reason he is able to rejoice amidst sufferings. He sees a greater purpose, and one of blessing for others. This is something that is surely unique. Christians are those who rejoice to suffer for the sake of their fellow believers. For some, like Mum, this was a particular calling.
What of that expression, ‘I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions?’ It is very important to be clear what Paul is NOT saying here. He is not suggesting that there is something deficient in the sufferings of Christ, a deficiency which Paul must, through his own sufferings, make good. The purpose of the sufferings to which Paul refers here is not the salvation of people, but they are ‘for the sake of his body, the church’. That is to say, this suffering experienced by Paul is not designed to effect redemption but rather can be used of God to complete Christ’s purposes for His church.
As I think of how Mum endured such grim suffering down long years and decades, I think of what she contributed in her place at Bargeddie, in prayer week after week when she was able, and also what she inspired in others, not least the astonishing and determined devotion of my father in his care of her.
There is undoubtedly something perplexing and mysterious in suffering, but we rest assured that under the sovereign hand of a God of love, there is nothing meaningless, even if not all is crystal-clear.
Those of you familiar with Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’ will know that the Hobbits appear to be the least significant of all the races of Middle Earth. Yet to them was entrusted the terrible and costly burden as bearers of the Ring of power. Their quest to destroy the ring was not of importance only to them, but was one that held significance for all the peoples of Middle Earth. Towards the end, as all the races gather around King Aragorn (himself a messianic figure in Tolkien’s writings, if not in the film) they kneel before the Hobbits in acknowledgment of their service in carrying such a grim burden.
In so many ways Mum’s life was Hobbit-like in its ordinariness and yet she was entrusted with the heavy burden of suffering. Only eternity will reveal its full significance, but her funeral service was at least, in some way, an acknowledgement of how much so many of us owe to her under God.