We took communion at church last week during our Ash Wednesday service. Communion is a joyful sacrament. But as we enter Lent, it’s solemn as well. And as I took the bread and the juice, I remembered watching Betty–one of the saints of the church–do the same more than a decade ago. I was so touched by it; I went home and wrote about it.
She was dying.
She’d beaten cancer back time and again. This time, she raised her chin and told everyone it was alright. No more cures almost as bad as the disease. No fighting the inevitable. Because, ultimately, life enfolds death. Not enemies, but friends showing one another the way to eternity.
She came to church last Sunday and she took my breath away. Weeks since I had seen her last, her frailty stunned me. But then I saw her shining through, the same as always, smiling and glad to be with us. Love radiated from this woman whose body shrank only to make room for her soul swelling with the nearness of heaven.
We took communion and her wheelchair sat in the outside aisle where everyone on the left side of the church passed as they returned to their pews. And as they passed, they reached out. Women dropped kisses, light and airy as clouds on her spotted hands, her dappled cheeks. Men gripped her shoulder—gently, oh so gently. There were pats and squeezes. Whispered love words and eyes filled with the groaning of the Holy Spirit.
Who placed her there? In that spot where the congregation would pass like a tide coming in? It must have been the Holy Spirit. It could only have been Him.
They gave her communion last. Held out the torn and tattered loaf for her to pinch off a bit of the Body. Throat cancer would have been a fine excuse to abstain. But she dipped the bread and placed it on her tongue. And she swallowed. Or tried to. But she coughed and choked and had to be taken away to suffer. And isn’t that right? What could be harder to swallow so close to heaven? Christ waited around the corner and who wants to swallow the host when the HOST is waiting on the other side of the door.
That was Sunday. She died on Tuesday. She died with the echo of our voices singing the closing hymn in her ears. She died with the shadow of our hands and lips on her tissue skin. She died with Christ clasping her tight in His arms. She died. And now she’ll live forever.