Yesterday afternoon I finished reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader to my two younger kids. Everyone was in the room as I read the final chapters, when they sail to the utter East, the end of the world. There the three children from our world and the talking mouse Reepicheep come to a shimmering wall of water standing like a permanent wave. What lies on the other side no one knows; Reepicheep had always pictured it as the edge of a great waterfall. And at the bottom, Aslan’s country. They could actually glimpse Aslan’s country beyond the sunrise, where they saw a range of mountains of unbelievable height. But rather than being covered with ice and snow they were covered with forests and waterfalls as high up as they looked. And the mountains filled all the sky. Reepicheep took his tiny boat and sailed up and over the edge and was never seen in that world again.
I have always found this tantalizing glimpse into the next world thrilling. Doesn’t everyone long for heaven? The more extensive – but certainly not exhaustive – tour of the new heavens and new earth recounted by John in Revelation can be challenging to understand, but I find it even more exciting. As I have written recently, we have been reading those descriptions of the new heavens and the new earth together. They fill us with excitement and joy.
Did I write this already, that when I asked Peter what was most exciting about the vision of the future world in Revelation he said, “Seeing God. Eternal life. Being kings forever.” It does indeed say “they will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:5). Isaac added, “Yeah, and no more sadness or fear.” If that isn’t enough for you, it is described as a place of stunning beauty. Thinking about it now makes my soul hurt with longing. The New Jerusalem is that place, it is the people of God, it is the presence of God – those three things.
Our son Peter is sailing towards the edge. Soon he will be seeing God, entering eternal life, and reigning with the King. He will enter the place, join God’s people, and stand in the presence of God.
On Thursday morning Peter had a CT scan. That afternoon we met with the oncologist. When Peter is present the oncologist struggles to give bad news. That bad news, obviously, is this: Peter is going to die. Radiation has shrunk the main tumor in his chest, but already there are other tumors in his lymph nodes in his neck, in the lower part of his torso. There is even a tumor you can see and touch on the right side of his ribs.
We all cried, of course. Peter’s tears upset us. He has hardly cried through this five month journey with cancer. We asked and he said he was sad, but not scared.
After a few minutes Peter looked at his watch and saw that it was time to return to the Family House for their Easter party. That night Peter played games with friends, ate dinner, enjoyed a mango from the two boxes that another resident there brought specially for Peter. At bedtime Rebecca and I cried. Peter gave us each a hug and a smile.
On Friday morning I called the doctor for more information. How long? Weeks to months, he said. On the drive home we stopped at a home that provides end of life care for children. To be blunt, it is a place for kids to be as comfortable as possible when they die. We wanted to see if it would be an option for us. Peter kind of nodded as we left the well-kept five acres.
We told the news to our kids when we came home on Friday. Good Friday. We held each other and cried. After taking some time to absorb the news, we did normal things: finished The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, ate dinner, watched a Nature video. We also did a Good Friday family worship time. The kids took turns reading about the suffering and death of Jesus, we sang and listened to several songs, some of which made the tears flow.
From Come Ye Sinners:
View Him prostrate in the garden;
On the ground your Maker lies;
On the bloody tree behold Him;
Sinner, will this not suffice?
And Tis Midnight and on Olive’s Brow:
‘Tis midnight, and on Olive’s brow
The star is dimmed that lately shone;
‘Tis midnight in the garden now,
The suff’ring Savior prays alone.
‘Tis midnight, and from all removed,
The Savior wrestles lone with fears-
E’en that disciple whom He loved
Heeds not his Master’s grief and tears.
‘Tis midnight, and for other’s guilt
The Man of Sorrows weeps in blood;
Yet He that hath in anguish knelt
Is not forsaken by His God.
‘Tis midnight, and from ether-plains
Is borne the song that angels know
Unheard by mortals are the strains
That sweetly soothe the Savior’s woe.
I was more able to enter the suffering of the Savior because of our own suffering. We talked about the ways in which Jesus suffered: betrayal, mockery, beating, an unjust trial, crucifixion. But before any of that, he already told his disciples “I am overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” I pointed out that as much as Peter has suffered, and as much as he will suffer, he doesn’t have to carry the weight of the world’s sins. He doesn’t even have to carry his own sins. Jesus took them.
At some point on Friday the social worker from the hospital called Rebecca. Peter overheard Rebecca telling that we had visited the children’s home in the morning. “It was really nice,” she said. Peter, laying reading on the couch, suddenly gave a thumbs up and an enthusiastic nod.
“You liked it?” I asked.
“So you want to go there?”
“Yeah, but I wouldn’t want to stay there for very long.”
“So just at the end?”
Peter is peacefully making decision about where he will die.
On Saturday I woke up sobbing. I am crying now. Partly because of sadness, but then partly because we have such a wonderful child. We are amazed at how he is facing death.
After Reepicheep sails over the edge of the world, the children walk through the shallow water until eventually they meet Aslan on the land. He explains that two of them will never come to Narnia again. Instead they must come to know him in their own world, where he has a different name. And from our world the way into Aslan’s country is not over the edge of the sea, but over a river. “But do not fear that,” Aslan says, “for I am the great Bridge Builder.”
To enter the kingdom of God, a person must die and be raised again with a new body. Precisely what we celebrate today, the day of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the suffering Savior. Peter’s attitude is still “What is there to be afraid of?”
Our plans for the day: worship with a local church, eat, dance, laugh. And probably cry. I’m glad we have family in town to do it all with. And in the evening we will head back to San Francisco for one more meeting with the doctors tomorrow, and a little more radiation to keep the tumors under control for a time.
One more thing: I’m sure you will understand if we don’t respond to messages for a while. They are appreciated, so go ahead and send them, but we are occupied with other things for the time.