I paused outside of the room to gather my thoughts and breathe a prayer for the job that was ahead. The nurse had called and informed me of a new patient that had a fast-growing cancer on her face, neck, and head. She was not expected to live very long. A month ago she had been healthy, living independently, and had no visible symptoms. The nurse had tried to prepare me for a rather unsightly situation and the considerable difficulty in controlling the pain.
On entering the room, darkened because of the closed drapes and dimmed lights, my eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness. Withering in pain on the bed was a terribly disfigured woman with multiple, open, weeping tumors on her head, of which some were as large as a football; dozens of other tumors ranged in size from a marble to a golf ball. Significant amounts of morphine had been administered sublingually, but had little effect on her pain. Her chart said that she was not a practicing Christian, but had expressed a desire to see the chaplain on admission (some days prior). She is elderly, but her body seems to be rather healthy compared to her head. She has a decreased level of consciousness (due to medication and disease) and is alert only to herself, her pain, her end-of-life concerns…
What do I do for this lady? What can I offer her? What does the ecclesia have to offer her? How can the gospel be presented to her this late in the situation? What form would the kerygma take, and what should it look like? In this context I do not stand at a podium, take a text, and pontificate about some aspect of the scripture, a format that anticipates an allotment of time in which to reflect, incorporate, and by which to become empowered. On the other hand, my actions become the kerygma for the patient, and therefore this lived sermon must also be governed by some form of an outline. Therefore, I will now offer a brief sermon outline that I attempted to live for this patient:
Title – The Hand that Touched
Text - (Mark 1:40-42) (The Message)
“A leper came to him, begging on his knees, "If you want to, you can cleanse me." Deeply moved, Jesus put out his hand, touched him, and said, "I want to. Be clean." Then and there the leprosy was gone, his skin smooth and healthy.”
The beggar’s situation seemed hopeless. Set apart in a dark place, alone, and certainly he was afraid. His hand reached out… (This will attempt to meet the patient where she/he is at this time – I see you! I hear you!).
Jesus recognized that the leper was after more than physical healing. If that were all there was to this story, then Jesus could have spoken the word from a distance and accomplished the same. No, Jesus recognized the outreached hand that said, “Can anybody love me just the way I am! I am so all alone in my pain, my disability, and my hopelessness!” So Jesus did what was important first – He touched the leper, He accepted the stigma of becoming a leper, and bridged the gap between heaven and hell! The healing of his body was secondary to the healing of his self image. (This will attempt to provide the patient with validation of life, faith, and meaning – I feel/touch you!)
How long had it been since he had been touched by anyone? Can you imagine with me for a moment how it must feel to not know the touch of man (or God)? Even a hand of hatred is better than total seclusion (an Eskimo proverb)! The gift of touch, regardless of the physical healing, created a feeling of wellness and wholeness in the man’s life. (This will hopefully infuse the patient with a sense of worth and accomplishment – I value you!)
Conclusion – The lived moment!
* (Matthew 28:20b) “And remember, I am with you each and every day until the end of [your life]." (my paraphrase)
* It is my desire in the lived sermon to join the diseased body of humanity and the divine hand of God together!
Dear God we stand here in our weakness in need of your hand. We don’t pretend to understand the ‘why’ or any other of the deep questions of life. We do recognize the need of community… the need for someone to be here. Let my hands, the hands of the nurses and aides, and the hands of all who visit here be the hands of God. Let her community bring blessings, peace, and contentment in these hours of pain and passing. We ask all these things with our faith firmly in the mystery of your Son, Jesus Christ. As Jesus provided mediation between God and humanity – Let Kim’s community now mediate to her the endless love of the Master’s touch. Amen!
The Lived Sermon...
Kim was every bit as bad as can be imagined. She tossed and turned on her bed, her skin was moist and clammy, the sores on her head were… (well, some things can’t be described), and the smell… I pushed up the chair as close to the bed as it would go and sat down. When I took her hand, I could feel the grip tighten around mine (somewhere inside she was still reaching out for community). She whispered a word (one of two words she said while I was there) to me before I could say anything, “Scared!” I told her who I was and did not receive any response other than her hand gripping mine. Her collar-length hair was matted, wet, and hanging in her face. I reached out my other hand and began moving the hair out of her face and running my fingers through her hair and over the tumors that were claiming her life. Her response was almost immediate as she calmed down and began to more comfortably fall asleep. The nurse came in and said, “Thank God you’re here. We haven’t been able to do anything for her.” Amazing what a hand can do when time is given and the effort is made! Over the next few hours I said my prayer, even told the story of how Jesus touching the leper, played some hymns on my iPod, but mostly just held her hand and touched her head and hair. One old hymn written by Charlotte Elliott, in 1835, seemed especially fitting.
Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.