So the day had finally come when I got the call. I was a brand new deacon in the Church of God, serving in my first parish, Christ Church Creston. The call was one that I had for a long time been cautiously curious about and at the same time looked forward to. The voice on the other end of the phone, “Is this Fr. Robin?” “Yes it is,” I replied. “Oh great, I am phoning because my aunt is in hospital and has requested a priest visit her. She is dying and I think she needs Last Rights. Is that something you can do?” From my nursing career hospitals, sick and dying people were something I was very familiar with. This was the first time I was going to administer Last Rights, though. So I read through the order of Last Rights, got the Reserved Sacrament primed and ready to go; a Bible and Prayer book, both the BAS and BCP copies, for both me and her. Stole, purificators, chalice and ciborium and everything else I thought I might need.
As I walked down the hall to her room, I remember thinking to myself, “there must be an easier way to do this . . .” I had packed for every eventuality; the option to receive communion or not, oil for Unction and the large silver chalice and ciborium that was normally used during regular Sunday worship. My arms were overloaded. As I approached her room, she was sitting outside with her niece, the one who had made the call. She could spot me a mile away because there was no mistaking who I was or who I was coming to see.
Any anxiety or nervous energy I had at the time immediately evaporated as the person said as I was unloading the holy loot that I had brought, “I am so pleased to see you. I am not afraid. I am ready to go. I have said all my goodbyes and said everything I need to say to people.”
The time we had together was memorable and precious to the both of us. We prayed, laughed and cried as I led her through the order of service for the Reserved Sacrament, anointed her with oil, heard her last confession and pronounced the Last Rights. As I left there was a mutual feeling in the air that she was now at peace. Any nervous energy and tension she had, was gone. Her last request now complete. She was at peace with herself and God. She died within the week.
Those places and moments in our lives where words seem unnecessary and a picture can say a thousand words are when bushes burn and presence of God is most strongly felt. From the first time and every time since I have had the privilege to be at the bedside of someone who is critically ill or dying is a moment when bushes burn.
We all have these moments and times in our life. I wonder when bushes burn in your life. God meets us in the everyday of our lives in ways we often least suspect.
In our reading from Exodus today we hear again that well known story of how Moses meets God in the form of a burning bush. God has heard the cry of the Israelites. Remember last week we heard how they were persecuted and forced into slavery and hard labor. The cry and the lament of the Israelites are now heard by God and God is going to send them the person who will lead them into freedom.
We may wonder what is taking God so long. Surely he could hear the cry of a people long before things got out of hand. . . Yes indeed God did hear the cry, and the Pharaoh’s daughter was moved with compassion and took the baby out of the water, named him Moses and raised him as her son. Now the time has come for Moses to reveal God’s glory and lead a people out of bondage and into freedom. Bushes burn for Moses and they begin to burn for the People of God who will suffer no more at the hand of Pharaoh.
I love the practical response that Moses gives to all of this. We all know of people who are the planners. They are the ones who get the practical steps right and make sure that the big picture or vision is fulfilled. Moses is a planner. He says, “Okay, all this is fine and good. Leading people to freedom, got it. But they aren’t going to come just because I say so. They need to know who sent me. In other words, what is the big draw for people to leave the world they know and enter one they don’t? The people need a name.” God responds, “tell them I Am; that I Am has sent you.” The People of God now have a leader and they know in whose name they are being lead to freedom. Moses and the Israelites are smart however. They do not wish to leave one oppressive regime only to march quickly into another. No, if they are going to risk life and limb, they want to know that they will be following the God of liberation and freedom. So Moses assures them that God, the God of Love, will lead them and keep them safe.
As we continue our journey following the God of freedom and liberation. Who are the people and what are the moments in our lives where we can feel and know the presence of the Divine in our midst? These are the moments, when life seems as though it cannot get any worse, someone, somewhere comes to us and says exactly the right thing at the right time. These are the moments when the doctor says that a loved has less than 0% chance of living and then slowly but surely, somehow, someway, they regain their strength and motor co-ordination and they are walking down the hall the biggest smile on their face. These and many more are moments when bushes burn in our lives.
And yes, following that first occasion when I visited someone to give last rights, I developed a much more seamless and efficient way to carry all that I may need for any eventuality.