There are so few pure moments in ordained ministry.
Most of what we do is organised with an end in sight, with an intended emotion, with intended actions and with an outcome that is hopefully beneficial both to career and parishioner. In contrast, the pure moments sneak in like the person who slips into church after they know everyone else has taken a seat.
Preachers know what I mean. That sermon you slave away on all week gets a “meh” response. The one you wrote in desperation that morning and tweaked while you delivered it? The one that makes you want to say to each person shaking your hand at the end of the service: “sorry about that” is the one that makes them clasp your hand, make deep eye contact and say, “Thank You.”.
Priests know what I mean. The big middle class baptism where the people are charming and you feel a bit “connected” goes flat by the end because like the caterer your job is done and they have already moved on to the next agenda item. The packed, rowdy estate baptism where the congregation laugh, keep the right amount of respect and are genuinely grateful that you’d let them be part of something so beautiful and fun makes you feel like you have moved a little something forward in the cosmos even if you never see them in church again.
I was moved to write this because I’ve just come from the bedside of a dying man where I have experienced one of those pure moments. He’s someone I am fond of and someone who has always been supportive of my ministry even when it was kind of hard to do so. I got a phone call asking if I could come to the care home and say some prayers. So I dropped everything and drove over. He was struggling and he isn’t going to be with us much longer.
The pure moment came when I prayed for him, made the sign of the cross on his forehead and gave him permission to let go, to be at peace and to be assured of God’s love for him now and always. A little something broke free in the room. I don’t know how to describe it except as a sort of peace and rightness. A man lies dying with family nearby stroking his hand and speaking gently to him. He receives blessing and an assurance that his life mattered and will matter. With his lungs filled with final breaths, his ears hear that he is loved and that he will be missed. He hears that he is a part of all of us as friend, father, father-in-law, husband, granddad.
I want to weep but I can’t because I feel at peace.
It was a moment that could not be manufactured. Deathbed scenes are often more grim vigils than peaceful passings. Death can occupy the room so oppressively that love and good remembering get chased away. Sometimes when you speak ancient words and sentiments and address a life lived in real faith something gets unlocked. When you affirm a life lived the best he knew how as you touch his forehead and hold his wife’s hand something genuinely good for the world is released. We are meant to continually tell the story of hope and peace and love until we can speak no more because that is the sustaining story of life. This is what we were created to do as we journey together from cradle to grave.
Keep a look out for those pure moments and expect them in the least likely places because that is where they burn the brightest. You may only catch them for a moment or see them in the corner of your eye. That’s okay. As long as you find them and allow yourself to be refreshed and nourished by them for your long journey of life.