The other day my great-uncle died. We knew it was coming, we knew it would likely be before the end of the month, and so it was sad -- although not a shock -- when the phone call came through.
Out of all the many, many relatives I know of, all the great-aunts and uncles who I greet by name if I see them around town, I was closest to this great-uncle. He lived in the next province over, but he and my great-aunt visited frequently and it was always wonderful news to hear that they were in Alberta. He always had a good story (the one about the talking car stands out to me) and some of his funniest sayings are still used in this house today ('For crying in the soup' is a notable one).
His son was with him when he died, and the son said that moments before, his eyes got wide and he smiled -- this huge smile. Even as I type this I can picture it lighting up his face. My dad (who got this story through the grapevine) said as he was telling it, "...so maybe he was seeing Jesus."
I was a bit surprised at the choice of words. Maybe? Only maybe?
Of course I can't prove it, but there's no doubt in my mind that he did see Jesus. I have never in my life met anybody who loved Jesus more than my great-uncle. Jesus was so very precious to him. It was so simple, but that love coloured everything my great-uncle did.
(Cue the part of the post where music shows up to 'help' me make my point.)
The day he died, I listened to the Daniel Amos song Banquet At The World's End. I'd only heard it twice before (once on YouTube and once on the Cephas Hour), and had just bought the album (plus somebody turned on the radio during Matt Redman's 10,000 Reasons, so I had to break out the iPod quick lest I suffer permanent brain damage and Banquet... was the first song I saw).
I love this song. I may have only heard it twice, but I'd probably read the lyrics about fifty times by then (yes, I go on the DA website and read random lyrics when I'm bored. Your point...?). Those are such beautiful lyrics -- The poor are coming; The lame are running... There's a harelip salesman shouting out the news: "Come to the banquet at the world's end!" And it's all set to upbeat happy music. I'm seriously considering choreographing this and including a role for a little girl to be 'inviting' people to said banquet. Not sure exactly how it's all going to work, but that's the embryonic idea.
As the song played and then continued to run through my head after it finished, I realised this had been my great-uncle's manifesto throughout his life (or at least most of his adult life). He spent many years going to Europe to preach. I've heard him preach a few times over the years, and he was the kindest preacher you would ever meet. He knew the Bible and would not exchange its truth for any other idea, but he was gentle and kind in his delivery. It wasn't just 'preaching,' though, the way most people think of it. He wasn't just a pulpit-thumper. He lived his life in accordance with everything he said from the pulpit -- the preaching was more like an extension of the way he lived rather than an occupation. To put it perhaps more accurately, he was a messenger, just announcing to anyone who would hear what God has done and is doing. He spent much of his life traveling internationally (without traditional missionary sponsorship) and inviting people, with a simple earnest joy, to come to the banquet at the world's end. (This is exactly the spirit I'm trying to nail down for the little girl in the dance.)
Now, this night, as I type, he is at that banquet. But there is still room for more around the table. And if the 'beautiful people' (as they're called in the song) won't come because 'life' (*cough* money) is too important, there are plenty of poor and lame who can and will, if only they know they're invited.
This poses a challenge to those of us remaining. My great-uncle's work here is done, but that doesn't discount the rest of us. May we -- may I -- take up the cry and run through the alleyways, beckoning to the forlorn figures hiding in the shadows...
Come to the banquet at the world's end!