Thursday, December 6, 2007

HOPE IN THE HOUR OF DEATH
Advent 2007 / Daily Doses of Hope - #5

FROM RENDING TO SENDING. Last evening, one of the saints of our church drew his last earthly breaths and died. I was privileged to be with family members as they gathered around Jim’s lifeless body in tender mourning. The Yellow Rose hospice staff at Methodist Hospital gave us all the time we needed to let this moment of passing become more of a sending than a rending.

QUICK DEMISE. Less than two months ago Jim seemed as healthy as a 73-year old man could be. Near the end of October, he went to the emergency room to have some dizziness, nausea and headaches checked out. Within 24 hours, it was determined that he had several cancerous tumors in his brain, lungs, and liver. Medical staff estimated that, with some radiation therapy, he might have 4-6 months to live. The month that followed was full of both suffering and tenderness. He rallied during the week of Thanksgiving as family gathered around, but entered hospice care less than a week later.

"I CAN'T LOSE." My parishioner's straightforward words to me when I visited him right after his diagnosis were, “Pastor, I am ready to go. I can’t lose.” He shared his confidence in God and hope repeatedly during his brief bout with cancer. The basis of his hope was God’s Word and his response to God’s promises. Long ago, Jim trusted Jesus Christ to forgive him of his sins and give him eternal life. Jim’s life testified to the saving, keeping and Christ-forming power of God. “By their fruit you will know them.”

FELLOWSHIP OF SUFFERING. Like other hospitalized or suffering parishioners do, he always wanted to know how those in our church who were afflicted were doing. I’ve called this “the fellowship of suffering.” Those who suffer have a special care for others who are suffering. They support and intercede for one another.

A CIRCLE OF GRIEF AND THANKSGIVING. Jim’s suffering has ended. Family members and I stood around Jim’s bed and breathless body, held hands and prayed. I thanked God for redeeming Jim’s life and for the goodness many people have experienced because of his faith and changed life. I prayed comfort and courage for his family. And I prayed thanksgiving for the promise of the resurrection of the body.

RESURRECTION HOPE. The Bible describes that at death our body and soul are separated. The Bible also makes clear--and nowhere more clearly than in 1 Corinthians 15--that our bodies will be raised and that death itself will be destroyed. In many circumstances in which I am asked to offer pastoral care, these faith statements sound more than a bit other-worldly odd or difficult to grasp. But, somehow, this body-resurrecting and death-defeating scenario seemed more likely and real to me last night than ever before. It still does today. Such is the hope of those who put their trust in the living Word of God.

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