There is a ballad by John Denver about his Uncle Matthew that tells the story of Matthews life, of joy and sorrow, having and losing, life and death. When I hear that song, I always think Thats how I was raised. Most of the time we do not recognize that life and death go hand in hand and the key to living is to live with joy. The way we as Christians experience life and respond to the death of a love one is a powerful witness to the world of the hope of eternal life that we possess. People facing death themselves or facing death with a loved one grasp for hope from those around them who have the hope and serenity of being in a right relationship with God.
When my father experienced his second stroke within a weeks time, he was in the intensive care unit in a deep coma, so deep he did not even respond to pain stimulus. The whole familyMom, three children, four grandchildren and their spousesgathered in his hospital room. The doctor, nurses, and we knew there was little hope of recovery. We asked permission to sing in his room since music and ministry was part of our lives. We sang his favorites, The Old Rugged Cross, What a Friend We Have in Jesus, I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say, Come unto Me and Rest. I was watching Dads vital signs and his heart rate was erratic, but as we sang his breathing became even and his heart rate smoothed out as though he relaxed and was at peace.
During this time of looking death square in the face, there was a knock at the door. A woman was standing outside the door wringing her hands. She said, My husband is in the next room dying. I heard you singing. Does anyone in here know how to pray? My husband and I were closest to the door, so we left with her and entered her husbands room. She told us that she was not sure if he was a Christian or not. We held her hands and her husbands hands and prayed for his salvation before meeting God. Whether he could hear, whether he could respond, whether he had already made his peace with God, we did not know. Hopefully, his wife received comfort and sought God for her own salvation after this experience. What we do know is that God, like the waiting father of the prodigal son, is eagerly waiting when his wandering created-ones to turn toward home; and like the thief on the cross next to Jesus, hearts and lives are transformed! And we wonder if, in Gods seeking grace, the man opened his heart to Jesus, and he and Dad walked through the gates together? We dont know, but it does resemble the heart of the Waiting Father, doesnt it?
The doctor told us to go home, go back to work and be prepared for days, weeks, months or years of Dad being in this kind of coma. We did, except two of the family remained overnight. The call came early the next morning that Dad died peacefully in his sleep. There was no doubt in our minds about the mercy of God, the love of God, and the joy in both living and dying. While each of us daily cared for congregations of people and carried their burdens, several hundred people came from all over the country to pay their respects to our family. Your faith, your witness, in fact, your whole theology is on display to others as you live and as you confront death. Transforming Hearts Transforming Lives!
Lord, let our lives count, let our lives be care-full, so that when we need to be cared for, we rest in your arms.
– Rev. Mary Bruce Fuller, Minister & Attorney, Florence, Mississippi