I sat beside the bedside of an 84 year old woman who is maybe days, perhaps even hours, away from her death. Dorothy is her name.
I didn’t know her personally until yesterday. Her son attended our church in Denver and when his mom took a turn for the worst, he called me on Monday night and asked if I could come and pray with her. We headed out the next morning.
When we arrived at the house, her son greeted us then led us into her room. I sat down on Dorothy’s bed next to her. Grabbing her hands, I looked her in the eyes and introduced myself: “Hello Dorothy, my name is Andrew. I am your son’s pastor. How are you doing?”
Without missing a beat, she replied:
“I want to go to be with God. I’m ready.”
There were tears in her eyes. And her son’s. And ours.
We all talked together for a bit, and then I began to read Scripture to her. The classics: Psalm 91: He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High… John 11: I am the Resurrection and the Life… Romans 8: Who shall separate us from the love of God?… and so on.
“Dorothy,” I said to her, “have you known Jesus your whole life?” From what I understood of her story, she did.
She answered me: “Oh yes.”
“Good,” I said. “Then you understand that your friendship with him remains, in fact it is strengthened, beyond death. Very soon you will give to him completely what was always his: your very life. You’re ready for that?”
“I am,” she said. “I have no regrets. I’m ready.”
And so I anointed her forehead with oil, calling the sweet presence of the Holy Spirit down upon her, asking him to draw her gently beyond this fragile life and into unbreakable Communion. We gathered up around her bed, broke the Bread, dipped it in the Cup, and celebrated the Lord’s victory over death. We prayed the Prayer he taught us. And then I looked at them all in the eye and said, “You all have done and are doing this well. Don’t miss the good gifts the Lord wants to give you here in these last moments. Savor them. Treasure them. And treasure each other. God is working for your good in this.”
We exchanged a few more words with each other, I told Dorothy I would see her in eternity, and we left.
As we drove away, I couldn’t help think about the stunning beauty of what had happened. I told Mandi, “Can you believe that we got to be there for that?” But more than that, I thought to myself, “Dorothy’s end here is a picture of a good death. It is a good death because it was a good life–a life lived in friendship with Jesus. It still hurts, but the sting of it is gone. There’s no alienation or regret in it.”
As ministers of the Gospel–in whatever capacity we are so, whether we are pastors or laity–this, it seems to me, is our job. To help prepare people for a good death. We do that by stubbornly refusing to do anything other than lead them, however much they are willing, however much we are able, into the presence of Jesus where he can draw them into friendship and begin to heal their lives. It is never more or less complicated than that.
I think about that often. Whether I am preaching or teaching or meeting someone new or hosting folks at our house or getting to know our neighbors or passing a genuine thank you to our waiter or waitress, I find that more and more I am always, in some way, thinking, “Is this drawing this person, these people, into friendship with the One who is all and only burning, unbreakable Life and Love? If not, then I must stop. It will not help them. Or me.”
Keep it simple, friends. Jesus is present, and calling people, preparing them for unending, unbreakable Communion with him, and his Father, in the power of their Holy Spirit. However you can, be his voice.