I make visits to nursing homes. I go with a purpose: to serve the elders in our community. And because I am ordained, I am given the responsibility and privilege to administer a sacramental service, in addition to offering mutual comfort, words of encouragement — and, most importantly — all done in the context of prayer.
I also go with expectation and joy, because I know encounters with my elders almost always are received with appreciation, acceptance and mercy.
Today I make my monthly visit to a dear member of our congregation, ‘Lil. She lives at the end of a long hallway in a private room adorned with flowers and pictures hanging on the wall. When I knock gently and enter, softly calling her name, ‘Lil welcomes me in. I sit by her bed as we exchange pleasantries and begin to settle into the visit. She is kind and beaming with joy at my arrival.
I assure ‘Lil that her congregation continues to pray for her, and she tells me of the occasional visit from her god-daughter who brings honey dip donuts to share with her every Wednesday evening. She particularly looks forward to that. A big smile creases across her freckled face.
I pause before inviting her to share in Holy Communion with me. I do so because ‘Lil also particularly looks forward to this sacramental connection not only with her Lord but with the whole Body of Christ on earth.
Then, the tables turn, so to speak.
She invites me to join in this special meal outside her room where there are a couple of chairs at the end of the hallway. She says she considers that place her own living room where she like to host her guests — at the end of the hallway under some picture windows looking out onto the treed yard.
I accept ‘Lil’s invitation, suddenly realizing the truth. I was the guest. And what was to be a Communion in her room would be displayed outside for all to see. What was to be a ‘private’ service would become, at least, a public witness to anyone else in the hallway.
And what is more, the transformation from a private, spiritual event to a public expression of faith came not at the initiative of a ‘religious professional’ in myself, but at the gentle behest of a 90-year-old woman of deep faith.
Our witness together came about because she was the host. Not me. The presumed host — the expert provider of a professional service — became the humble recipient of a grace: to be led by the hand of a beloved senior of the church — out of the realm of private religious observances, and into the public eye.