Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.
~ Luke 24:13 - 16
This morning I got ready to go and visit a few hospice patients. As I gathered my arsonal of alcohol wipes, masks, and all the items I am now required to have with me during these face to face visits, I took a moment, looked in the mirror, and realized that I was the only person who might actually "see" my face today.
I have become a "faceless visitor" to my patients. The hand-holding and hug that I once could offer to patients and their families, has now been replaced by distance and words without action.
It's one thing to go and visit the dying, it's another to walk into a stranger's home filled with the unknowns of this pandemic. Even before the pandemic, I ministered to the sick, and will continue to sit with those who are dying after this virus subsides, whenever that day comes.
Each day I watch as our nurses and doctors address symptoms, and focus on keeping people "comfortable." What I am learning is that chaplains everywhere are being asked to "take care of the rest."
I am reminded that in the world B. C. "Before COVID," I didn't even think twice about being at the bedside, holding the hands of those in the room, singing, crying, hugging them, or offering them the Lord's supper. All of this has changed.
I now ask that only "one or two persons" be present during my visit, and inquire if anyone has traveled recently, had a temperature or cough, or been in the hospital? I wear one of two types of masks, depending on the acuity and answers to the questions I have asked, and often stand away from the patient and their family during my entire visit. I keep a lawn chair in my car for "patio visits," when the risk is too great.
My words have now become the substitute for hugs and hand-holding.
All my skills that I once utilized to watch body language, are now spent listening for pauses and "swallows," when a person tries to tell me how they are doing over the telephone when the patient is in a facility that is no longer allowing for any "outside" visitors.
In the midst of all of this, the work I do remains essentially the same. I am to facilitate a connection between patient and family, our team and the patient, and our patients to God.
In nearly twenty-five years of ministry, I have never just "phoned in" my vocation. I have always been one to "show up," and to be present.
I think it's interesting that this morning as I put my mask on to visit my first patient I was drawn to remember Jesus appearing to folks on the the road to Emmaus. He walked and listened to the couple describe the sadness and loss of Jesus. He did not lead them to know it was him that they were talking about. He just was simply present.
It wasn't until that night when they began to have supper, and in the breaking of the bread, that they suddenly realized it was the resurrected Jesus and he then disappeared.
They ask one another how they "knew" it was him, but yet, did not recognize him.
I am reminded that I am not just showing up wearing a mask. For any of us, we can always be the living presence of the resurrected Christ. In our spirit, our words, and even when we wear a mask.
While I may wear a mask, I am seeing and hearing just as much from the staff that I work with as the patients that I have been called to serve. Each day there is "something new." We all know something about human suffering about now, and our need for one another.
The resurrection of Jesus walking on the road was more than just a stroll. It was the reminder to us to seek Jesus in unexpected moments. In unexpected encounters. In the stranger that we just met, even when it's only their eyes that we can see.
Stay in God's grip!
G. Todd Williams (c) 2020
Rev. G. Todd Williams lives in the Houston metro area and is a Hospice Chaplain at Essential Hospice, Webster, Texas, and is an ordained Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) pastor.