Monday, October 22, 2007


As most of us know, the Gospel text for yesterday was about the unjust judge and the persistent widow. This post is about the living example of the persistent one in my teaching parish. There is a man who is not a member of the parish. Over the years he has been a contractor of sorts, and has done some odd jobs-type work at the parish because he knows one the members pretty well. On Thursday, I was meeting with my supervising pastor and we see this man enter the building. He is looking for the pastor, and she greets him, not recalling who he is at first- it has been a couple of years since she has seen him. He has labored breathing, and he is almost totally deaf, so their conversation is more than a little challenging.
He relates that he used to come to the parish for worship but his health makes it hard for him to attend our only service on Sunday which is at 9 am. Mornings are a struggle for him. He really wants to receive communion. He is a baptized Christian.
She tells him she does not administer communion outside of the service usually but if he can come to next Tuesday's morning prayer which is at 10 she will give him communion then. She tells him she is in the middle of a meeting now. I feel bad- there must be more to the story, but we do not hear it that day because the meeting has ended.
On Sunday, our parish has a 9 am service, followed by fellowship and Sunday school. It is now about 11:30 a.m. All of the lights are out, all of the communion ware put away. We are getting ready to leave- I have a lunch meeting with a Council member. And here is the man again.
Still laboring to breathe. He seems a little stressed out. He tried to make it to church but his lung "locked up" - is he too late for communion? I pause, wondering what will happen next- I say a prayer in my heart.
The pastor tells him to go have a seat in the sanctuary and sends her husband to turn on the lights. She decides we will commune him. We get out the elements. She consults on what aspects of the service we will say- the Creed, the Lord's Prayer and Great Thanksgiving and Words of Institution. We go into the sanctuary where he is sitting in the front pew in prayer.
I light all of the candles. We sit with him in the pew and look at him to recite the service so he can read lips and see where we are, following along in a service bulletin that I marked up so he would know.
We administer communion and we "send" him.
Then she asks him how he is doing. He is going in for surgery to remove his thyroid- it has nodules but they are not sure if they are cancerous or not. There are risks- he could suffer vocal chord damage. And he only has one lung.
Then we hear about the car accident 27 years ago where he lost a lung, his spleen and needed a new aorta. The vocal chords on one side were paralyzed. This is why he has a raspy voice. The thyroid is on the other side- he could be mute after surgery.
And he only has the other lung- after years of construction work, it is not fully functional from all of the dust people inhaled before we knew what we do today about occupational safety.
And there is the hearing issue. After the accident, and after the surgery, while he was still in the hospital, he got an infection. Because of his injuries he had three different doctors- they each prescribed antibiotics to battle the infection- he was triple dosed. The side effect of the toxicity was that he lost his hearing but he is glad the kidney failure was not permanent.
And he has the most wonderful vocabulary and manner about him, between gasps. He recounts growing up on the church and asks some questions, and it is clear that he was bright enough to have been many other things, but here in this rural community, he worked with his hands. And in spite of all of his adversity, he is still happily married and hopeful.
Earlier cochlear implants were not ideal and now he has been almost totally deaf for so long he has "accepted it." He is not angry anymore. He jokes that the secret to his marriage is that he cannot hear his wife.
But the surgery that should be 2 hours long for the thyroid is scheduled for 5 hours. But he must have the surgery. And being in church is a comfort and tears come when he is communed. And he had gotten up early that day and rejoiced that maybe, just maybe he would make it to church at 9 but his lung "locked up." He makes no permanent plans because he just never knows.
Persistence. "Hear me."
And how much more will God do than we?
And when he returns will he find faith?



David said...

This is a wonderful reflection and one of those "nuggets" to hang o to for future reflection in ministry. And what a wonderful way to celebrate the Holy Supper!

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful story! One would be surprised how many people desire Holy Communion but are unable to receive it for health reasons. That would be a cool ministry for a church.