I remember my last words to my mother on her deathbed before she drew her last breath. I had thought about what I might say in the days leading up to that moment, wanting those last words to mean something. Should my last words be words of gratitude? Or something to let her know that I would be okay when she was gone? Perhaps I should say something profound about the nature of love or maybe read from Scripture or quote one of her favorite prayers. But in the mix of complex emotions at her bedside during those last moments, I couldn’t think straight. I could only feel the immobilizing weight of knowing that, like my father just 11 months prior, she would be gone from me in seconds. I ended up saying something I hadn’t planned beforehand: “Dad is going to be so happy to see you!”
“Parting words” are to language what the Rock of Gibraltar is to stone – weighty, massive things that take up all the space around them and more, somehow. And that’s true not only of parting words at the death of a loved one but also for any of our “last chance” opportunities to say something important. If you’ve ever heard an excellent commencement address or dropped your kid off for the first day of kindergarten or watched Randy Pausch’s “Last Lecture” on YouTube or even just paid your longtime babysitter for the very last time because she’s leaving for college next week, then you know something about the power of parting words.
This week is Palm Sunday, so the Gospel reading will cover the entire story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, last supper, betrayal, arrest, passion, and death. It’s a beautiful story of good and evil, heroism and treachery, victory and defeat. But what I find most fascinating is what the Gospel reading was for us last week. In other words, what were Jesus’ “parting words?”
They were all about forgiveness. When Jesus is confronted with the woman caught in adultery, after some silent reflection, he declares, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). When all is said and done, Jesus’ parting words were about letting go. The angry mob was moved to let go of their desire to punish while literally letting go of the stones in their hands. To me, that means that “letting go” must be the kind of Rock-of-Gibraltar truth that lives at the very core of Jesus’ message.
And if that’s not enough, Jesus moves from those powerful “parting words” to demonstrate for us what “letting go” really looks like. In the Palm Sunday Gospel, we’ll see Jesus let go of his own desire for God to “take this cup away from me” (Luke 22:42). He lets go of his friends, his mother, and his innocence. He lets go of any hope of fairness, deliverance, and freedom. He lets go of his strength, his stature, and his wholeness. And at the end, he lets go of his life.
I could have been more profound at my mother’s deathbed. I could have waxed poetic about a mother’s love and a daughter’s gratitude. But that would have been more about me than about her. The truth is – I’m happy with my parting words just as they were. I like to think that they may have made the transition into eternity a tiny bit easier for her. And in those few, simple, possibly even silly words, I think she heard my heart. I’m good with that.
Jesus’ parting words were all about letting go – of grievances, resentments, expectations, shortcomings, and excuses. It may be counterintuitive, and it’s certainly countercultural. But this Rock-of-Gibraltar truth is at the very core of the “good news” of Jesus. I’m good with that too.