Sometimes as a pastor, you have moments that hardly seem like moments until you reflect back on them. And sometimes these moments rattle you more than you think they should.
Yesterday in worship, our gospel reading included the story of Jesus blessing the children. So during the children's sermon, I talked with the kids about blessing and we walked around the sanctuary to places where we bless people (at the font for baptisms, at the front of the sanctuary for the benediction, and at kneelers on the sides of the sanctuary where yesterday we were going to offer individual anointing and prayers for healing).
The air was thick with blessing from that point forward. I talked of blessedness in my sermon, and we gathered up around the font during the prayers, so that we might bless one another's prayers, and we blessed each other as we shared Christ's peace through handshakes and embraces, and then, at communion, Pastor Miller and I positioned ourselves, one at each kneeler, to receive people and to pray with them, to lay on hands of healing, to anoint and to bless.
Adele took communion and then came to my kneeler. Ninety-six year old Adele. She asked for general prayers of healing and blessing. I knew she hadn't been feeling well recently, with too many trips to the ER in the last few weeks, but here she was in worship, looking like herself, giving me her beautiful smile, asking that I might bless her. And so I did. I prayed for healing, and I prayed for peace. I prayed for comfort and strength, and I thanked God for his beauty shining through her. And then, I dipped my finger into the oil, traced the sign of the cross on the forehead, and said to her, "Adele, you are a beloved child of God, and you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever."
I thought that I was praying for her healing.
I did not know then that I was actually blessing and anointing her and commending her to her maker.
Adele passed away overnight. It shook me to hear the news this morning; it is always weird to think that you just saw someone the day before, and they looked fine, and now they are gone.
But it shakes me more to think that somehow, in blessing her, I prepared her heart and soul for a peaceful passing. Talking to her family today, I learned that after church, they took her on a drive through the Arboretum to see the fall colors. And then, later in the evening, she felt her body failing, and shook off all advice to call the paramedics. No, she said, she knew she was dying, and she wanted to do it in peace.
Sometimes as a pastor, no matter how thick the feeling of blessing hangs in the air, and no matter how blessed you feel to be able to bless and anoint others, you still feel shaken...and humbled...and honored...to have been the hand of blessing in that one moment, which was bigger than you'd ever imagined it to be.