The phone call (several decades ago now) was from a doctor, a member of the congregation I was pastoring. He had just informed his patient, Cedric (not his real name), that there was no treatment — neither surgery nor medications — to arrest his advanced bone cancer metastases.
After breaking the news gently to Cedric the doctor had asked if he would like to see a pastor and Cedric, somewhat shaken, had replied yes, so the doctor was phoning me to make an appointment for him.
But when the time for the appointment came, Cedric did not show up. I was not surprised. I had learned a bit more about him and thought prayer with a pastor was one of the last things he would have been interested in.
He and two other unmarried brothers lived on a farm a few miles from town. The three were reclusive and I learned that they wouldn’t have seen the inside of a church more than a half dozen times in their lives. I asked a church member who knew the area well if I should I go to the farm to look him up. He advised me not to.
But a few weeks later during a visit to another church member in the hospital, I saw Cedric’s name on the patient list near the entrance. He was in room five in the bed nearest the door.
When I introduced myself I could see he recognized who I was. There he lay, the head of his bed raised slightly and a Bible open and face down across his chest.
We conversed briefly about the words he had been reading from John’s Gospel, and before I left him I asked if he would like to open his heart to the Lord Jesus. He nodded in the affirmative, so I prayed a short prayer of repentance and faith, which he repeated after me.
It was my custom, after I had visited with two or three parishioners, to sit in the car in the parking lot for a few moments to review in my mind each visit before driving away.
That day I had mixed feelings about my visit with Cedric. I didn’t even know him, nor he me. Why didn’t I make the first visit just a friendship visit ending with a short prayer? Had I been too hasty? Was he really ready for that new believer’s prayer? I was hard on myself.
But a day or so later when I visited him again I could tell he was waiting for me to come. That began, as I recall, a string of visits across two months, as his body wasted away. First he was moved to a single-occupant room. Then, as his condition advanced, he was placed on a Stryker frame.
It became evident to me that, in that initial prayer weeks before, he had experienced God’s love and forgiveness. Due to his weakness, our visits were short, but they were enriching to both of us.
One day as I approached him I asked, “What are you thinking about these days, Cedric?” He responded matter of factly, “I’m thinking about dying.” That prompted a short but faith-enriching conversation. He obviously had the assurance of eternal life through a living faith in Christ.
The next time I saw him he said, “I would like to be baptized.” I replied that I would come back the next day to do this. There was a reason for one-day delay. In a close-knit community I wanted to be sure I was the main pastor if not the only pastor ministering to him. I didn’t want to invade another pastor’s territory for church services.
On my next visit, I said to a nurse, “Cedric tells me he wants to be baptized.” She understood immediately and provided me with a small basin. Then she offered a white towel, saying, “You may use this to wipe any excess water from his head.”
There the two of us were alone in the room, one strapped to a Stryker frame, the other holding a small basin of water. There was no instrumental music, no congregational singing. After a few words of instruction I raised my voice slightly and said, “Cedric, I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” I wiped the excess water from his forehead. After a short prayer I left him.
The next day I made my last visit. As I bent over his bed he said in little more than a dying whisper, “Yesterday was the most wonderful day in my life.” He was referring to his baptism.
I had Cedric’s funeral. His brothers were there. I told his story. I expect to see Cedric again.
Photo credit: nerissa’s ring (via flickr.com)