“Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake.” (From the Order for Compline, page 134 BCP)
About ten years ago I was getting my annual physical exam and the subject of flu shots came up. I asked if I should get one. The doctor said, “I think you should. Like me, you’re around sick people all the time.”
Ever since then, I’ve gotten a flu shot each year. Not getting the flu is a good thing for me. But me staying healthy is good for the people I see as well because they certainly don’t need me giving them the flu.
Tending the sick is a ministry we all share. We cannot do that on our own and so we offer the pain and suffering of the world to Christ who tends them more completely than we can. But our ministry to each other in times of weakness is crucial. When others are in pain, there is a universal compassion which we all experience. Some may be better with sick people than others but each of us tends to the sick on an almost daily basis.
One thing I am aware of, as I visit the sick, is that I am always unsure of the value of what I offer them. Typically when I visit the sick I am empty-handed. I don’t usually take chicken soup or flowers or cards. Sometimes I take Holy Communion to the sick but many times it’s just me standing or sitting by the bedside or chair. We talk. We share back and forth. We touch. We look each other in the eyes. We pray. The relationship between us goes a little deeper. And hopefully the relationship between them and God goes deeper. But I always wonder just what it is I am offering and just what might be received in my visits.
While I may doubt the effectiveness of my ministry to the sick, I am always struck be the effect the visits have on me. A while back, I walked into a hospital room and greeted a parishioner. Before I could even ask how she was doing, she started asking me about how I was doing. I said, “This is supposed to be about you, not me.” She responded, “Well just because I’m in the hospital doesn’t mean I don’t have anything to offer you.”
Like everyone else, I would say that I get much more out of my visits with the sick than I give to them. Often I am struck by the great strength of those who are suffering. Sheer courage is often exhibited as people choose not to be ruled by their fears. The grace that many show in their times of weakness is remarkable. It’s really hard for many people to be dependent on others and to receive help rather than give it. Watching those strong and independent people adjust to a new normal is humbling and life-giving. Being with people who succumb to their fears and really fall apart emotionally likewise is a privilege in that it is so authentic. People don’t like to fall apart but, when they do, we all hit bottom together. Hitting bottom leads to healing. Sometimes hitting bottom is required before we can heal. Getting to watch that helps me know that health – physical, emotional, and spiritual – isn’t something we can always maintain; it is more something we are led to, something we return to. Somehow that leads me to know that, while health isn’t always something we can control, it is a gift from God that we are invited to participate in more fully.
Sickness is a universal experience. Some of it is avoidable and we are called to make better lifestyle choices which can keep us healthier. But no matter how healthy we are we will get sick from time to time. Many of us get angry and frustrated in those times and resent not being able to operate at full speed. Sickness forces us to slow down and deal with weakness and limitation. As we do that we return to a fuller health and a deeper appreciation of the gift of life. Most of us are better at tending to the sickness of others than ourselves. Maybe we even practice on others so that we can eventually tend to our own sicknesses better. We may prefer to think of sickness as something we can just keep away but that is nearly like thinking we can keep sin away. All we are sinful, all we are sick or will be, all we are in need of healing and salvation. Sickness makes us face that reality.
Sickness leads to healing. Sin leads to salvation. Our limitations reveal God’s unlimited grace.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
Adult Inquirers’ Class Led by the Rector – Sundays in Lent – 9:15 a.m.
If you are an adult and would like to be confirmed by the Bishop this Spring, or if you just would like a refresher course in the faith, development, and teachings of the Episcopal Church, an Inquirers’ Class will be held during the Sunday School hour on the Sundays in Lent, March 5 – April 9. This course covers all matters of things Episcopal with attention to what distinguishes the Episcopal Church from other denominations, personal prayer and stewardship, Holy Scriptures, Church History, the Sacraments, the Liturgical Church Year, symbols, and the Book of Common Prayer. Presentations will be made each week with dialogue and questions encouraged. We will meet in the Archives Room. For more information contact Robert (firstname.lastname@example.org).