Text: Acts 20:1-38, 1 Corinthians 16:1-4, Philippians 1:20-21
The price we pay for the sun-drenched joys of summer camp are the sad farewells. I was seventeen and my legs were completely covered by bug bites, from my athletic sandals to my cuffed jean shorts. Bending over to scratch an ankle while Emily and I propped up the last of the mattresses in our cabin, I allowed myself a moment to peek into my sadness. Back at home, I was “Becky,” but at camp, I’d managed to introduce myself as “Rebecca,” and after a summer of feeling so grown up, I was sad to leave.
Emily, sunburnt and still wearing a camp t-shirt, hugged me and said, “See you in heaven!” And she left. Just like that. I remember sitting alone in the fading light of our empty cabin, smelling the warm cedar and thinking, “See you in heaven?! Can she even say that to me?” It felt so final, and yet so hopeful. No one has said those words to me since, and I don’t think I’ll ever see Emily again, so she was probably right.
Her words stuck with me, however, and when I read Paul’s lingering goodbyes to the Ephesians, I’m reminded of how hard it is for us to say our final farewells. Small things receive huge significance when they are the last things. Even the dust motes floating in the air, illuminated by shafts of sunlight, seem important in our last moments with those we love.
Set in the context of eternity, all these things—all these moments—are the last things. My summer camp goodbyes are mostly forgotten, but that one reminded me that this world is passing away (1 Corinthians 7:31). Paul’s last address to the Ephesians invited them to see the world in the light of eternity, to make much of little things, because our goodbyes in this world are many and often.
Knowing that none of them would ever see his face again, Paul slowed everything down to cry and savor their time together. Some of Paul’s last words to them were simple:
“But I count my life of no value to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.”
In his final moments with dear friends, Paul wanted to speak to them about only the things that truly matter. Whether we die at the ripe old age of 110 or at breakfast tomorrow morning, these moments on earth are so dearly short compared to eternity. These sunlit days are brief and full of petite goodbyes. Paul uses these moments to commit his beloved friends “to God and to the message of His grace” (Acts 20:32).
In the midst of the sadness of all our goodbyes, the small and the huge farewells, God’s presence continues to go with both parties. When we are joined together in Christ, He promises that we will share an inheritance together in heaven (Romans 8:17). Indeed, we have His word that, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).