My heart was caught up in a beautiful rapture this morning.
The hub and I were standing shoulder to shoulder singing one of my favorite worship songs when I noticed the elderly gentleman sitting in front of us was quivering. My heart was drawn to him. The quivering increased to what appeared to be silent crying. I didn’t know whether he was in distress or whether he was just moved by the song. Often when I went to church with my dad, he would cry during worship, so I knew being moved to tears was a real possibility.
But just in case, I put my hand on his shoulder and said a prayer. Almost in unison, the hub touched his other shoulder. Then his sweet wife noticed and took his hand. The beautiful clasp of their long-married hands is one for the memory album.
That precious snapshot was the prelude to an even more beautiful moment.
We next sang, Come Worship the Lord.
The young worship leader’s rich, able voice stirred the air as we sang the chorus again and again:
Come, worship the Lord,
For we are His people,
The flock that He shepherds.
And I thought about my sister, Laura.
I thought about one of the last conversations we had before she died. She asked me about my church. I told her I hadn’t been going. She looked alarmed. “We’re just taking the summer off,” I assured her, “we’re going to start visiting churches in the fall – look for one that fits us better.”
“It’s the singing I miss,” she said.
Many years earlier she attended an Assemblies of God church with my dad. Back then I attended an Evangelical Presbyterian Church, but I would come and worship with them occasionally, especially when Laura was singing a solo.
She had a beautiful voice. The only one of us seven sisters who could sing.
Then she remarried and no longer went to church, hadn’t been, as far as I know, in about 25 years. She told me, once, that she wanted to, but her husband wasn’t willing. He was interested in more of a Native American spirituality which she adopted, and which gave her much comfort, in her battle with cancer. And she never stopped believing in the God she worshiped in church.
She missed the singing.
And as I stood in the midst of the rapturous, glimmering, Spirit-filled air this morning, I wished it had occurred to me to say, “Let’s sing now.”
I’m tone deaf, so I would have sung along very quietly.
The two of us all alone in her house singing as many worship songs as she could remember. Perhaps they would have stirred the air, enrapturing both our hearts.
I went to the funeral of a stranger. I witnessed his family gather around his casket, which stood in the center of the aisle. They laid their hands on the casket and they kissed it and they prayed.
As I watched, I thought, “I would entrust my funeral to these people, to this pastor.”
This morning I wished Laura’s funeral had been entrusted to them.
This will likely offend some in my family, if they were to read it, but there is a deeper, higher, broader, sweeter, whole other layer of spirituality in worship and in the gentle giving of last rites and in prayer that my sister missed out on. Perhaps she wouldn’t have wanted it. Perhaps she would have asked for it if she did. Perhaps she didn’t know it was available for the asking.
I didn’t, until I witnessed it at that stranger’s funeral and until I was so moved by it today.
All I know is that Laura missed the singing and, if I had that afternoon in her living room to do over again, I would sing.
I want my death to have a soundtrack. I want to walk to the gate with music playing – music that reminds me that I am one of His flock, and He is my Shepherd; music that affirms that even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, He’ll never let go of me.
I want this song on my dying breath:
Worthy is the, Lamb who was slain, Holy, Holy is He…
I want to be surrounded by those who will sing it with me. Or for me, if I haven’t the strength or the consciousness to sing.
Then there was the sermon. It was one of his last in a series on the Apostle’s Creed. The pastor explained the meaning of the holy catholic church and the communion of saints – including that great cloud of witnesses that has gone before us.
And again my thoughts turned to Laura.
When Abraham and Ishmael and Israel and others of the Old Testament died, Scripture says they “breathed their last and were gathered to their people.”
I’ve always loved that phrase, “gathered to their people.”
Shortly after my sister died, I had a dream about her. She was sitting under a tree with an open book in her lap. From a distance it looked like the hardcover yearbooks we purchased in high school. People were sitting and milling around in the background, blurred, and she was sharply in focus in the foreground. The scene looked and felt like a family reunion from our childhood.
Laura looked down at the open page and said, to no one in particular, “I really like her.”
It was as though she was being introduced to her people, sitting there under her family tree.
I know she’s fine now and I’m fine, too, and this morning my heart was full of love and regret and pure rapture.
Holy, Holy is He.