Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the
top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the LORD showed him the whole land: Gilead
as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as
the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain — that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees
— as far as Zoar.
The LORD said to him, "This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to
Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, 'I will give it to your descendants'; I have let you see it
with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there."
(Deuteronomy 34:1-4, NRSV, part of a reading for Proper 25)
The year I did Field Education, no one died. Well, a prominent merchant in the small town died, and my supervising pastor participated in an ecumenical service, but we had no deaths in the congregation. I never had the chance to see him get ready for a memorial service or a graveside service or a spring burial (common in this land of hard winter freezes). About four months after I began serving at Small Church, a parishioner asked me visit her stepfather in the hospital, and I began my first walk toward death in my role as pastor.
Over many visits in the hospital, I got to know her step-dad, married to her mom for many years. I learned how much he loved his golden retriever and how much it meant that the hospital allowed her to visit in the Special Care Unit, saw the devotion of his children and his step-children, heard stories of his romantic nature and the seriousness with which he took his retirement job as a school bus driver.
And it unfolded, over time, that having the children, all the children, at his bedside, would have been an unimaginable joy. There were eight of them, and the five from his first marriage had been estranged from him, while to his three step-children he was "Dad." They moved gingerly around each other at the hospital, and there was never a time that they all entered his room. But at the graveside service, on a muddy March morning, they stood together, all eight of them.
I wonder about Moses, 120 years old and in good health according to the scriptures, who heard this word from God and then died. He always had so many questions for God, so many needs and demands. Had he reached a place of understanding? Of calm? Of acceptance? Was the proof of God's glory more important than taking the next steps? Was the view enough?
You shall not cross over there. That's sad, isn't it? But now I am thinking of the first phrase in the sentence: I will let you see it with your eyes.
I like to think that, like Moses, the bus-driving dad and step-dad and dog-loving grandfather could see his promised land in the faces of all his children gathered under the tree on that early Spring day.