When I was a student at Virginia Tech, I had the good fortune to study Civil War history under one of the preeminent Civil War scholars of our time, Dr. Bud Robertson. Dr. Robertson once devoted an entire class to “Love in the Civil War.” He read love letters that soldiers and wives exchanged as they longed to be reunited with one another. Dr. Robertson said that love was probably stronger back then, simply because of the culture. Many husbands and wives spent nearly all day together, often within earshot of one another as they worked on their farm or homestead. There weren’t the distractions of the internet, television, or radio. To illustrate the depth of love these couples had for one another, Dr. Robertson noted that there were several documented cases of a wife dying within a few hours of receiving the news that her husband was killed in battle. Simply put, the wife died of a broken heart.
I have a friend who told me a similar story about a couple in his church. The couple had been married for over 70 years and the husband had been sick and in hospice. The afternoon that the husband died, the wife told their daughter, “I’ve had a wonderful life, but I’m ready to leave.” The wife died the same afternoon.
This past month I saw for myself what it looks like when someone dies of a broken heart. We had to say “Goodbye for now” to Bob Hale last month. Bob died just six weeks after his wife Barbara passed away. If you saw Bob during those six weeks you could see loss written on his face.
The two met and married in college and were married for almost 57 years. How badly did Bob miss Barbara? After Barbara died, Bob found a number of pictures of Barbara that were stored away. He took the pictures out of storage and placed a picture in every room of the house. In some rooms, he placed multiple pictures so that he could see his Barbara from every vantage point in the room. He also took a favorite sweater of hers and sprayed her favorite perfume on the sweater and placed it on her pillow to have it close to him at night. At one point I believe Bob finally said to himself, “I have had a wonderful life, but I’m happy to leave.”
I’ve been thinking about the love that Bob and Barbara had for each other. Hollywood tries to tell us what love is like and we all love a happy ending when the guy finally gets the girl at the end of the movie and they ride off into the sunset. That’s a nice story, but I think a better story is Bob and Barbara’s story. I remember speaking to a gentleman who was having marriage problems and he said, “At the wedding, we said our vows and I remember saying for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness or in health. Then everyone pats you on the back, gives you gifts, and everyone’s celebrating. No one stops to think about worse, poorer, or sickness. Marriage is hard!”
Bob and Barbara’s love held them together through 57 years of better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. As I reflect on Bob and Barbara passing away within weeks of each other, I believe their love gives us a smidgen, an infinitesimal glimpse of the love Christ has for us. In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul gives us a definition of love. The very first word Paul uses to describe love is “patient.” Some Bible translations translate the word “long-suffering.” To love someone is to suffer with someone, or for someone. Earlier I said I believe Bob died of a broken heart. Just as Bob suffered a broken heart, Christ suffered a much greater burden. It’s humbling to think that Christ’s heart was broken by the love He has for you and me. It’s too much for my mind to fathom that Christ loves us enough to suffer for us. We speak of Christ’s suffering on the cross as “His Passion.” We call the crucifixion narratives in the Bible the “Passion Narratives.” Easter week, or Holy week, is also called “Passion week.” The Latin origin of the word passion is “pati,” it means to “suffer.” Maybe we don’t like to associate love and suffering, but love and suffering are two sides of the same coin, as is love and grief. I will often say at funerals that “You will grieve much, because you have loved much.” Christ grieved over our sin, our lostness, and then he took that sin upon Himself and suffered for us. Christ’s heart was broken by His love for you. What do we say about all of this? I say, “Thank you Lord. Thank you for loving me enough to die for me. Thank you for showing me the depth of your love.” I am humbled by God’s love. I’m searching for the right words to express how I feel. I’m overwhelmed by this knowledge. How do we respond to Christ’s love? Simple, just be with Him. Bob wanted nothing more than to be with Barbara. That’s what Christ wants as well, just to be with us. I pray that we can respond to Christ’s love by being more intentional about our prayer life. I pray as we go through our days that Christ might be top of mind, all the time. I pray we might honor His suffering, by giving Christ the best gift we can give, our time, our attention, our lives. Lord, may your passionate, long-suffering love, transform our hearts and minds. May your love refine us and define us. We ask all of this in Christ’s name. Amen. May God bless the Hale family and may God bless our Bethel Church family. Amen.