This past week has been somewhat challenging. A couple of visitations and phone calls left me wondering about what’s on the other side of life. I was reminded of a story about a sick man who turned to his doctor as he was preparing to leave the examination room and said, “Doctor, I am afraid to die. Tell me what lies on the other side.”
Very quietly, the doctor said, “I don’t know.”
“You don’t know? You, a Christian man, do not know what is on the other side?”
The doctor was holding the handle of the door; on the other side came a sound of scratching and whining, and as he opened the door a dog sprang into the room with his tail wagging and an eager show of gladness.
Turning to the patient, the doctor said, “Did you notice my dog? He’s never been in this room before. He didn’t know what was inside… he knew nothing except that his master was here, and when the door opened he sprang in without fear. I know little of what is on the other side of death, but I do know one thing: I know my Master is there, and that is enough.”
On Saturday, December 14th, we will hold a Rosemary Service of Remembrance for parishioners who have lost loved ones and for whom this holiday season may be a difficult one. This service is meant to provide comfort, solace, and the assurance of God’s abiding presence. In as much as we may not know what’s on the other side of life, we are motivated by a different kind of knowledge that springs from an eternal hope - that our Master will be there, and that should be more than enough.
As I called parishioners and invited them to the Rosemary service, what got me thinking was when I felt myself asking the same question as the sick man in the story - What lies yonder? It is a crazy thought, I said to myself. But the sad reality is that, for many of us, it is an incredibly helpless position because that is a part of our human story that we have absolutely no control over, but one which we want to maintain control, if possible.
We like to be in charge, and like to be the determinants of what happens to us at every stage of our lives. And so to be confronted with our own helplessness is often the last reality we want to deal with. For many of us this is the period when we even shut down and become despondent. But we need not be! To the contrary, in fact. This is the moment of our lives when we have to reach out and re-dedicate ourselves to the Master, the God to whom Isaiah sings this praise: “Surely, it is God who saves me; I will trust in him and not be afraid. For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, and he will be my Savior.” Finding ourselves in that position is when we have to reach out for the hand that has always its character of being outstretched and waiting to be touched.
And so as I mulled over all these disparate thoughts flooding my mind, I made a visit to the hospital - in part because it is always a reality check for me, but more importantly to offer comfort, solace, and the assurance of the ever-abiding presence of the Master. God. When I walked into a room, surprisingly sitting on the windowsill of the parishioner was a card with a pithy message “Life is slippery. Here, take my hand.” It was surreal. I kept looking at the card and read it over and over again. There was this amazing sense of freshness and warmth that enveloped me. My countenance changed as I was fixated on it. It was as if I had been awoken from a deep sleep…Here, take my hand. I could feel myself reaching out to take the hand of the Master, stretched out for my sake and for yours.
"Who doesn’t need a hand?" I asked myself. We all need a hand. We may be in denial about it, but whether at this very moment or in the future, you will need a hand. Maybe, even, at that point of helplessness. I also asked myself, "Which organization doesn’t need a hand?" All organizations - including Christ Church - need the hand of faithful parishioners like you and I in order to stay alive, to be active, and to proclaim God’s redeeming grace in this part of God’s kingdom, and beyond.
“Life is slippery. Here, take my hand” It was a new one for me, but within those words, I could hear the doctor’s reassuring words to the sick man. Within those words, I could hear the antidote to our helplessness. Within those words, I could feel my burden being lifted. Within those words, I behold the assurance of the ever present hand of God. Those words are deeply promising, just like the season of Advent. Yes, Advent is about waiting, preparation, and anticipation for the little Child whose hands remains outstretched to hold us on our slippery path just so we do not fall.
Indeed, all of our life is slippery, and there’s never been a day when we do not need a hand. If I thought I was going to cheer someone up, I found my spirit being uplifted by a simple card with a powerful message.
May the message on the card lift your spirits up.