The Whole Land

She asked me a few weeks before, his stepdaughter, a member of my church. Would you come to the hospital and see my mother’s husband? He’s dying.

I went. I learned, first on the cardiac floor and later in Special Care, of the second marriage, the two families of children, the disputes between the tribes in the early years and the quiet detente later. I heard all about the beloved dog who came to visit in the hospital, a sign that there would be no recovery.

And I really didn’t have a chance to know him, except through their stories and a few quick visits, and the relationship built in prayer–the family gathered around the bed holding hands and the hurried mentions in the car and the solemn requests made in church. One of the prayers murmured, off the record, was that no one would fight over him at the end.

It was my first funeral, and I echoed that prayer, fervently.

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)

This is what we read at his graveside service.

The end of Moses’ life seems so wistful. He was forever being called to the high ground to meet with the LORD. Against his better judgment, or his stubborn wishes, he went along with what God asked him to do. Left in charge of a squabbling nation, he went back to God over and over asking for help and guidance. Overwhelmed by his responsibilities, he trained up other leaders to assist him in carrying the great weight. And in the end, all he got was the long view.

It was my first funeral, and I prayed that the family would not break apart further in the emotion of the moment.

Then, sometime in the last day or two of his life, his children and stepchildren gathered together, finally. They stopped pretending that life goes on forever, that grudges can be held without harm being done to the grudged and the grudging. In a muddy cemetery, so wet we had to walk across boards to the place we would speak words over their father, they all had the same wish: to support his wife and to honor him.

It took them a long time to forgive him for making a new family, for remaining loyal to the old one, the concerns of children carried into full middle age. But their love for him at the end–the reconciliation of two sets of grown-up offspring and the gathering of one family–felt like a glimpse into the Promised Land.

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