"The Last Thing is the Best"
Written by the Rt. Rev. Henry N. Parsley, Jr.,
Visiting Bishop for the Diocese of South Carolina
Surely he has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows…
These words of the prophet Isaiah echo through Holy Week as we walk with Jesus on the way of his cross and passion. Isaiah is speaking of a nameless servant of God whose vicarious, suffering love will be redemptive. Christians understand these words to foresee the ministry of Jesus who became this suffering servant and offered himself on the cross for the world’s healing and redemption. “By his wounds we are healed,” Isaiah continued, and the Prayer Book proclaims.
In this time of suffering across the world from the coronavirus, these ancient words seem to ring with special meaning. Holy Week traces the worst of times, as we remember painfully how humanity rejected the Lord of Love and put him to death. It is a distant mirror of ourselves at our worst. The darkness at noon on Good Friday is our darkest hour.
The week also reminds us that in the suffering of Jesus, we see all human suffering—that painful, inescapable aspect of the human journey. In some sense the Lord continues to share our present suffering, carrying it with us on the unending way of the cross.
“With” is one of our faith’s most significant words. It always conjoins two realities. “I am with you,” we say; “with your help,” we ask. Such words affirm that we are not alone, that we need close affection and comfort. In 1979, J.D. Souther sang “when you are feeling lonely and small, you need somebody there to hold you.” So true.
In faith we affirm that Christ is “with” us, that his love is always there to hold us and to carry our sorrows and griefs and fears. This is the profound assurance of Holy Week. Our faith is not just about times of gladness and celebration, even though that is the part of it that we prefer to accentuate of course. It is equally about the hard times, when we do feel lonely and small. Then we find that “the way of the cross is none other than the way of life and peace.”
In one of his novels, Frederick Buechner tells the story of a young pastor whose wife dies of cancer. He is away from his church for a time, grieving. When he returns to the pulpit, he says to his people, “Beloved, I do not preach the best without knowing the worst. I know it, beloved…But the worst thing is never the last thing. It is the next to the last thing. The last thing is the best. It is the power from on high that comes down into the world, that wells up from the rock bottom of the world like a hidden spring. You are terribly loved and forgiven. You are healed. All is well.”
Holy Week traces the worst of times. The pandemic we are living with is tracing another worst. But the worst thing is never the last thing. The Easter light rises out of the ashes. The last thing is the best.
Merciful God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Palm Sunday Collect, page 272)
~The Rt. Rev. Henry Nutt Parsley, Jr.
During the uncertain times created by the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, leadership of the diocese will send out regular meditations on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays for the next while as we all adjust to a new chapter of living and being the Church.