Recently, I came across what I felt was a profound talk given by an EMT at a TED conference. From his unique perspective in responding to crises, Matthew O’Reilly offered insight into life’s last moments. What do people feel when they know their life is almost over? The entire talk is well worth the five minutes it takes to watch or listen.
But here is the abbreviated version: At a certain point in his career, responding to incidents in which patients may have only moments left to live, Matthew O’Reilly decided that he would no longer lie – telling people they would live when he knew they would not. Instead he decided to tell the truth: “Yes, you are going to die.” Nearly all of those he has treated since have responded to those words in the same way, not with terror, but acceptance. And with acceptance, O’Reilly also began to notice three patterns of response in his patient’s final words.
The first pattern or type of response is a need for forgiveness. O’Reilly found that regardless of religious belief or background, numerous patients expressed a desire for forgiveness – for things they didn’t do, or things they wished they had not done. For example, one elderly gentleman having a massive heart attack said “I wish I had spent more time with my children and grandchildren instead of being selfish with my time.”
The second type is remembrance. Those facing death express a desire to somehow live on, to be remembered and not forgotten. O’Reilly recounted that many patients even looked at him, a perfect stranger, and said “will you remember me?”
And the third pattern is meaning. Many people in their dying minutes needed to know that their life had meaning – to feel they had made a difference, that they had accomplished something with their time.
Forgiveness. Remembrance. Meaning.
Are these the deepest longings of our souls?
To love and be loved. To know and be known. To live up to our own standard or that of others. Forgiveness. Remembrance. Meaning. It all goes together, these human desires that are the underlying motivations for many of our actions and emotions. I know that I have personally wrestled with each of these things and all the adjoining questions.
So where does this lead? I suppose, if this life is just this life, if there is no next, no God, no eternal existence then all these questions go unanswered, these expressions of longing fall on deaf ears.
But if there is a God, and if sent his Son, and if his Son had the power to take our place, could things then be different?
In his own dying breaths Jesus spoke this word: “Tetelestai.” Greek verb. Perfect passive. Completed action. Meaning: it has been accomplished; it is finished; the account has been paid in full.
In stark contrast to our own deep pleadings, Jesus’ final words contained no questions, only answers. All that he had come to do had been done. It is all there. In this final word. Tetelestai. We cannot overstate its significance. All of Jesus’ life, his birth, his ministry, his miracles, his pacifism, his love, his tears, they all lead to this moment, when God’s plan for salvation had be fulfilled. Jesus’ work was finished.
Forgiveness. Remembrance. Meaning. “Tetelestai.”
Here is what this word spoken by Christ means for us. “Tetelestai.” Our forgiveness is complete, Jesus has covered our sins. “Tetelestai.” Our God has remembered us, called us as his own, invited us into his kingdom, along with the thief upon the cross. “Tetelestai.” The meaning of our life is now clear, we belong to God, are loved by him, created for a purpose. Not only that, but we are worth dying for. “Tetelestai.”
This word also takes our worry. Has my life pleased God? Have I been good enough? Could I really be forgiven? “Tetelestai.” There is nothing left to do. Like a carpenter’s finely polished desk, or a master painter’s completed canvas, for us to add to Jesus’ work is only to detract. It is complete, accomplished, paid in full. Salvation has been worked out – sins covered, righteousness granted, our hearts’ longing all fulfilled.
And in case there was any question, the empty tomb proves the power of the cross. This is no ordinary man, his was no ordinary death. He died so we might live. He rose so we would die no more.
Our life has now been changed. There is no need to prove ourselves or our worth. Salvation is not ours to earn. It has been given. So now we live with thankful hearts, joyful in work, called by God to make a difference. Experiencing his grace, we have every opportunity to extend grace to others, living generously, forgiven, saved.
So let the words wash over. “Tetelestai.” You are forgiven. You are remembered. Your life has meaning. In him, all has been accomplished.