Heaven and earth shall pass away but my words shall not pass away, says the Lord
Have you ever noticed that words outlive people? I am not just talking about famous sayings like 'to be or not to be’ or anything like that where we can readily answer their origin in a table quiz but sayings and expressions whose origin goes back hundreds of years, and where nobody knows now for sure who coined them in the first place. Their wisdom and their applicability says something about human nature and behaviours that these words still hold true.
‘Minding your ps and qs’ for example had to do originally with closing time in pubs, where ps were pints and qs were quarts. It was last orders, and it was the announcement of the last chance to but a drink! Has anything changed?
All sorts of clichés like ‘to be honest’, at the end of the day, it’s not rocket science, thinking outside the box, back to the drawing board (1941) avoid it like the plague (middle Ages), a bad hair day (1998 in print), or one of my favourites cut to the chase, used by film editors when a movie in the process of final editing seemed to be lacking in dramatic tension. We might hate sayings like that, but we are all guilty of having repeated phrases whether we like it or not.
Words outlive people. CLOSER TO HOME, we can think of a saying of a deceased relative or friend that has huge significance. It may be witty or wise, and like a family heirloom it has value only within the family circle and conjures up a funny or significant moment. We might introduce it by saying, ‘Lord have mercy on my father, he used always say...’ or ‘as my mother used to say’, or ‘my mother had a saying..’ it may need further explanation outside the family circle. It may be a common enough saying like ‘there’s nowt so queer as folk’, or ‘there’s no accounting for taste’. I wonder what phrases or sayings you might associate with a parent or grandparent or even further back?
The point is: their words live on. The phrase might conjure up an image or memory, it might sum up the character they were for us, so it’s more about the words and their appropriate usage in a given situation, it’s also about the memory of the person we are invoking. We will always make that word association in our minds, and it can be very personally significant but have little meaning for others. We might even have a phrase ourselves unbeknownst to us which people associate with us! Sometimes people want or use a phrase, or better, a favourite prayer for their memorial card or headstone!
So why all this emphasis on words?
Jesus says today: Heaven and earth shall pass away but my words shall not pass away.
Put simply, there is something uniquely significant where words are concerned and particularly in Jesus’ words.
They are the most important words ever spoken, or that will ever be spoken and put to paper –the words, teaching and preaching of Jesus in the Gospel. They will remain forever, no matter what happens. Therefore it is worth getting to know them better, and even having a few simple words or phrases of Jesus we can easily remember and even ponder driving along in the car, such as Come to me all you who labour and I will give you rest. Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart and you will find rest for your souls. Come follow me, anybody who listen to my words is like a wise man who built his house on rock; blessed are those who mourn, they shall be comforted. Watch and pray, can you not keep watch with me and pray one hour? Ask and you shall receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you. I am the Good Shepherd; those who belong to me listen to my voice’.
Jesus placed great importance on taking His word to heart and taking them seriously as words for living. We can take great comfort in them. Without even realising it we find ourselves really praying, bringing our own worries and concerns, at home or at work, to Jesus and finding wisdom and maybe an answer that has been eluding us. They also tell us about the kind of person Jesus was and is, and the kind of people he wants us to be. They are not difficult, they are not rocket science!
In this year of Faith we realise therefore it is not so much about what we believe – although that is important too, but about who we believe in and why? Jesus, whose words will never pass away
Finally as we resolve to take Jesus comforting and at times challenging words more seriously, what were Jesus' ‘famous last words’ before He ascended into heaven - they are words for every day:
‘Do not be afraid, I will be with you always.’