“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another."
~ John 13:35
The man was too weak to complete making the sign of the cross on his own, and so I took his hand and helped him to trace the cross on himself. Something he had done since childhood, but now, laying and dying, he could not complete the ritual that had become so much of his life and his faith. Just days before we had been laughing that the church had, "Sent out two priests to hear all my confessions."
Lasting words. Years ago a dear friend, Rick, and I were attending seminary together. We were two Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) students in a sea of Presbyterians at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. It was the end of the semester and we were busy trying to complete a few papers that were due. One paper needed to include two theologians with opposing views about God and sin. We were both struggling to balance family, work, seminary, and began emailing one another back and forth. (This was way before the days of texting, and emailing was actually something new to us both!)
You had to be with the two of us to "get us." We were two unlikely ordination candidates, attending a Presbyterian seminary, and loved finding ways to disrupt the structure of this Reformed tradition that was centuries in the making. "Hey Todd, why did the Lutheran chicken cross the road? Because he knew no other way but to sin boldly!"
I laughed as I read his words. I responded, "Why did the Calvin chicken cross the road? Because he had free will."
This went on for about a half hour when one of us realized the time and that we would barely be able to get dressed and drive to campus in time for class. I sent one more email and headed out the door.
Rick didn't show up for class. After class I tried calling and sent another email. Hours later his daughter arrived home to find that Rick had suffered a brain aneurysm and died while still sitting at his computer. A final email to me was still on his desktop. The message, which his wife hit the "send key," and I received later. The email I still have folded away in my Bible. He wrote these words, "Marvelous, simply marvelous. Last words are lasting words. See you soon."
I have carried these words with me as a reminder that not just last words, but last acts of kindness, comfort, and words of love will always have lasting effects.
While helping the man make the sign of the cross is not part of my own spiritual practice, it ia an act of kindness that brought him peace. We need to recognize that even the smallest gesture we can extend to others can have a great impact. They will always help us to fulfil the final commandment that Jesus left with the Disciples, "Love one another as I have loved you."
Stay in God's grip!
G. Todd Williams (c) 2020
Rev. G. Todd Williams is the author of the book, "Remember Me When..." and is a former hospice chaplain and pastor.