Hello, Good Bye. The End.
Nobody mourned its impending death . . . no one talked about how much it would be missed. No billboards or television commercials warned of the void it would leave . . . yet, just like that, it has almost vanished as a viable connection of hearts, of happenings and goings-on, as exchange of cordialities, and recording of historical events-it is the irreplaceable handwritten letter.
I am a tactile person. I love pen and paper-especially good quality paper and a pen that writes smoothly upon that paper. I do not profess to do too many things well, but in case you are wondering-I am a good skater, have nice penmanship, am a good speller and I used to be able to write a great letter; I am not sure anymore. Okay, and I can do a lot of sit-ups!
The apostle Paul wrote a great letter-actually he wrote thirteen of them. Hey, are you up for spending a few minutes in the wonderful pages of the Word? [When I am teaching, I love to hear the sound of Bible pages turning as there is nothing quite like it!] Turn with me to the last of Paul's letters, Philemon-right before Hebrews.
Look how Paul says good bye: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. [We have talked about just how radical that is-that grace settled upon our spirits-changes everything.] Now look at his greeting, how he says hello, directed to Philemon and a couple other folks: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now look across the page at the good bye of the letter to Titus: Grace be with you all. And back one page to the hello: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. Taking the time to look up the twenty-six hellos and good byes, [thirteen letters times two, right?} we note one word common to all: GRACE. In each case, Paul is pronouncing a blessing upon the reader or hearer of the Word1. At the start, Paul sends grace TO, and at the end, he pronounces a blessing of grace BEING WITH his loved one.
Twenty-six times Paul extended grace. Why? Paul was hung up on grace because he knew what his life was like without it, (before he had the divine encounter on the road to Damascus in Acts 9), and there was no way he was going back. 'It is for freedom that Christ has set us free,'2 he wrote to the Galatians, as Paul contrasted life under the law to the life of grace in Jesus Christ.
The last time I was in Jerusalem, I shared a meaningful Shabbat dinner in a family home, but did not miss the timing mechanism that turned lights on and off so the Jewish observants would not break the Sabbath. Nor did I miss the hotel elevators programmed to stop at every floor, ensuring that no 'work' laws were broken by a rider pressing a button. Paul knew the grace of the Lord Jesus set him free from upholding law after law to attain righteousness.
F. B. Meyer, turn of the century English minister, commented far better than I ever could myself about this prayer of Paul's for his loved ones to know and experience the great grace of God. "It is impossible to define all that is meant by this comprehensive prayer -- illumination for the soul, love for the heart, strength for the mind, purity for the character, help in every time of need, direction in all perplexity and difficulty-all these are included in the word grace." These are the things that Paul breathed out in prayer for his beloved Philippians, as we finish this letter...knowing he could not be with them. In all of Paul's letters, his listeners no doubt endured persecution for their beliefs, hardships, trials . . . things unspeakable which would require the grace of the Lord Jesus be with them.
We all have loved ones who are far from God - may we devote ourselves to praying that they will come to accept the great grace of God in their lives: illumination for the soul, love for the heart, strength for the mind, purity for the character, help in every time of need, direction in all perplexity and difficulty.
For that is what we wish for those we love, for those we want to see cross the finish line of faith. Is it not?
And for you, my dear friends . . . For you, my beloved readers around the world . . .I wish nothing less- illumination for your soul, love for your heart and in your heart, strength for your mind, purity in your character, help in your time of need, direction in all perplexity and in any difficulty you might face . . . grace and forgiveness to cover any frailty in your being. Amen. So be it. In the name of Jesus.
1 - upon receiving Paul's letters, the parchment would be read aloud to the gatherings; no one had their own copy to read and reread, no printing presses then!
2 - Galatians 5.1