It’s a beautiful spring day and I have some azalea bushes I want to get into the ground. But first, an overdue visit with Melba. She’s the oldest member of our congregation and almost 40 years my senior. Although she has lots of physical challenges, mentally she remains at the top of her game, and the reality of her life often makes her cranky. I can’t blame her for that. Today, I just want to knock this visit out so I can get on to other things. I will briefly enter the little world of her room at the retirement home and return to my larger life in no time.
We chat about the new Pope and her flat-screen T.V. and the church and her pain. Then the time comes to move on to the main reason for my visit.
I open my little box of Holy Communion-to-go, set a wafer and a tiny glass of wine on the table, and launch into the Brief Order for the Confession of Sins. I say the words I have said a bazillion times before: “Most merciful God, we confess that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves…” Let’s see. I picked up four new azalea bushes; three are bright pink, and the other one, I believe is white… “We have not loved you with our whole heart…” Should I plant all three of the pink ones under the pine trees in the front yard, or should I plant two pink ones and one white one and then put the other pink one someplace else or I could put the white one someplace else?… “For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us...” Maybe I’ll have to figure it out as I go. First I’ll have to dig four holes and mix some Miracle Grow with the soil…
Okay, the confession is over. So we move on to the absolution. I assure her that because of Jesus, her sins are forgiven. And I’m wondering if I have enough Miracle Grow to get the job done. “As a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ, and by his authority, I declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Reflexively drawing the outline of a cross in the air, I punctuate my words in the customary way, “Amen.” I expect to hear her echo my Amen with one of her own.
Wait a minute! What was that? Did she just say thank goodness!? Thank goodness!? It seems that, unlike me, she had been paying attention. She was not somewhere else. She was present in the room. She heard the words of forgiveness, and she knew they were words of life for her.
Thank goodness! Those two simple words jarred me like being awakened from a deep sleep by a fire alarm. Thank goodness!
As I consecrated the bread and the wine and then placed them in her hands, I wasn’t thinking about azalea bushes anymore. I was thinking about how my routine visit to this dear woman of faith is anything but routine for her. This is a holy moment. Jesus is present in the bread and wine. Melba is present in our community of faith at Holy Trinity and we are present in her. God is here! Instead of showing up at her door like I was delivering a pizza, I should have removed my shoes in reverence for the holiness of the ground beneath my feet.
I take her hands in mine and pray for her in the way pastors are expected to pray in these situations, offering God’s word of grace to someone who so desperately needs to hear it. “Amen,” I say, indicating that this will conclude the sacred portion of our program for the afternoon.
But Melba doesn’t release my hands. Instead, she offers a prayer of her own. This time the word of grace is for me. She seems to know that I need to hear it, too. But I doubt she realizes just how desperately.
Melba finishes her prayer and squeezes my hands as we both say, “Amen” together. Yes, Melba, amen! And, thank goodness!