I went to visit a young woman in the hospital last night. I'd never met her before, but she and her family are friends of a friend who alerted me to her predicament. She is only a few years older than my Beanie Belle, and, looking at her there in her hospital bed, I could not help but think of my own daughter. I understand that this young woman is very bright and talented. She's recently graduated from a very fine college, and she is supposed to begin doctoral studies at the University of Notre Dame this month. In fact, she has only just moved to South Bend this week, eagerly anticipating an exciting new juncture in her life. Our mutual friend described her as a lifelong Lutheran and as a dedicated Christian.
Sometime in the middle of the night between Monday and Tuesday, this intelligent, impressive young woman suffered a serious stroke, and now, just like that, she is in the hospital for who knows how long. She's 23 years old, with all the promise in the world, and yet, suddenly, her whole life has apparently been turned inside-out and upside-down. I spoke to her mother earlier in the day, and met her sister and boyfriend at the hospital. They are devestated and distraught, of course. So far, there is no clue as to what has caused the stroke, nothing to explain the fact that something has gone terribly wrong. What can we do but pray, as our Lord has taught us, and trust His Word and promises of the Gospel.
The fact of the matter is, there is nothing in this temporal life that is sure and certain. Heaven and earth are passing away, and so are each of us; only the Word of the Lord endures forever. We make our plans and go about our days, but only as God so wills, only by His grace. Life really can turn on a dime, and sometimes it actually does. Much of the time, we are able to pretend that we know the rhyme and reason of it all, the why and the wherefore, and we suppose that we remain in some semblance of control. As if. Then there are those times when the rug gets completely pulled out from underneath us, or we turn the corner and get hit full in the face with something utterly inexplicable. The false gods that normally compete for our allegiance all flee, or they are driven out, unable to help or save us either way.
It is normally far too easy to imagine that our life is found in the abundance of our possessions, whether they be material goods, fame and fortune, abilities, opportunities, family or friends, or what have you. It is not so. All of that stuff may be here today, gone tomorrow. Your life may be required of you tonight. Your children's lives may be cut down in a heartbeat. To make matters worse, as all of your idols come tumbling down, the devil reminds you of your sin, and condemns you for it, and points out that you surely deserve whatever you suffer and more. How then shall you cope or survive, when you are stripped of everything but guilt and fear?
There are two things to consider and take to heart. The first is this, that the very Son of God has borne all your sins and iniquities, all your griefs and sorrows, all your infirmities and sicknesses, in His own body on the cross, and by His stripes you are healed. He has suffered all that you suffer, and He has done so for your sake, in order to bear it on your behalf, in order to redeem you from it forever. He has been tempted in every way, just as you are, save only without sin. Thus, He is a great High Priest who sympathizes with you in your weakness. He is almighty, but He has made Himself weak in order to make you strong. He has made Himself poor, in order to make you rich with the genuine and lasting treasures of the Kingdom of God. He became lowly and was despised, that you may be exalted and honored by the Father.
The second thing to remember and trust is that you have already died with Christ in Holy Baptism, and that your life (your real life) is securely hidden with Christ in God. There isn't anything in heaven or on earth, nothing within or without, that can separate you from Him. Your life right now is under the cross, no doubt, but it is by the Cross that Christ has saved you for life with Himself. He gives you that life, as He gives you Himself, each time He speaks His Word of Holy Absolution, the forgiveness of sins, and each time He feeds you with His Body and Blood.
I spoke that Gospel to the young woman I went to visit in the hospital last night, trusting that the Word of the Lord is more powerful and active than even the devestating affects of a stroke. I had to speak it as much for myself as for her. For I was starkly reminded of all that I fear, love and trust instead of the one true God in my own life, and how precarious every bit of it is. Yet, this mirror of the Law is a part of the call to repentance, that the Father may recall and recover His dear children, and the Good Shepherd restore His lost and wandering sheep. No one and nothing shall be permitted to snatch us out of His hand.
It is exceedingly difficult, and often impossible, to discern the blessings and benefits of the Cross when you are in the midst of having it laid upon you. Yet, the Cross of Christ is the means of His great salvation, and He does not share it with us to destroy us, but to sanctify us, strengthen our faith, and more firmly unite us to Himself. As we die with Him, we live with Him, as well. In all things, even sudden strokes that lay us low, we are more than conquerors through Him who loves us. God grant us to believe it, by His grace, come hell or high water against us.