Monday, August 1, 2011
Then at last Thine angels come...
That was the first of so many occasions when I provided "Last Rites." Some years later, the LCMS published The Little Agenda which included a nice little rite, not all that different from what I had cobbled together years earlier. When a member of the Church is near death, the Pastor should be called... says the rubric. And call they do.
Not all the "Last Rites" were near the end. In one particular case, the one near death refused to die. Della Lohmeyer had grown increasingly ill. Her only sister, known as Chicky, had arrived from Belleville, Illinois, to see her through the end. Chicky called me, told me it was time, and I drove up to the Albany Medical Center to give "Last Rites" to Della. Her kidneys had shut down, she was laying comatose in the bed, and her sister prayed that God would relieve her sufferings and let her go home. I figured that the last words I would say to her on earth would be the final stanza of Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart and the benediction, The Lord bless us, defend us from all evil, and bring us to everlasting life. But Della was not ready to die. Eventually her kidneys began functioning again (much to the shock of her nephrologist) and she left the hospital and moved to Illinois with Chicky and lived for many years.
For many of those folks, the very last words they heard were that hymn stanza:
Lord, let at last Thine angels come,
To Abr’ham’s bosom bear me home,
That I may die unfearing;
And in its narrow chamber keep
My body safe in peaceful sleep
Until Thy reappearing.
And then from death awaken me,
That these mine eyes with joy may see,
O Son of God, Thy glorious face,
My Savior and my fount of grace.
Lord Jesus Christ, my prayer attend, my prayer attend,
And I will praise Thee without end.
I cannot forget the great sighs of some who breathed out their last while my hand lie upon their forehead and my lips spoke those words. I cannot forget those who simply departed this life in a second without hardly anything to let us know they were gone. I cannot forget those whose labored breaths and long, slow, quiet moans finally faded into silence at that time. My wife has seen it all countless more times than I have -- a nurse who attends the sickest of patients she has stayed with those who had no one and stood with the family who did not know what to do and even waited off the clock for death to come to someone who begged not to die alone. But a few dozen times, I have been there in the last hours, hour, minutes, and seconds of a Christian's life here on earth and bid them go to the place which Christ has prepared for them with the angels as their companions and guides, to the refuge of the weary, the bosom of Abraham, the reunion with those who have gone before... It is not always easy or edifying to be there.... But what a privilege...
When a member of the Church is near death, the Pastor should be called... says the rubric. Call... and we will sing and pray the dying from this life to the life that God has appointed for them through the death and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ....