Charles Dickens begins his novel The Tale of Two Cities with the sentence, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” As I begin my walk with you, those words come to mind. Last week for me was the worst of times and the best of times. It began with the worst day following Monday and the best of days by the end of Friday. But let me explain.
Last week, I faced a week that had doctor appointment after doctor appointment. On Tuesday, I dreaded going to see a very wonderful physician, a gastrointestinal doctor. I detest it when I feel nauseous, and that has become more frequent with my aging. My physician gave me a prescription, set me at ease, and I do not have to see him for another year. So, it was the worst of times, but ended up the best of times.
On Wednesday, I was to see my eye doctor. It is not pleasant for us to have our eyes dilated especially if you like to read and work in your shop. So, when I left the doctor’s office, I was blinded by the sunlight and glad that I had brought along my dark glasses. As I did not look forward to Tuesday, I felt no differently when I awoke on Wednesday. Yet after my eye appointment, I found that my vision was excellent, so I do not have to see my ophthalmologist for another year. From worst of times to best of times, until the next day, Thursday.
My thoughts facing Thursday were horrendous. On Thursday my cardiologist had scheduled an MRI. I was told I would be in “the tube” for at least an hour. My echocardiogram had shown signs of my heart failure increasing, and I was having a more difficult time breathing. The prospect of the MRI was indeed for me the “worst of times.” What would my thoughts be while I was undergoing the many pictures of my heart that were to be photographed? I thought about that Wednesday night and decided once more that my faith and memory would carry me through whatever was to happen before, during and after that appointment. Looking to that hour, I was not sure I had enough scripture and poetry in my memory to carry me through so then what else could I recall?
Over the years when I have not been able to easily fall sleep, I would seek to recall the people I had known, especially the ones of my youth. I would try to remember all about my friendships and the days we had spent together on our bikes or sledding in the winter or football games in the fall. I decided on Wednesday night that on Thursday I would think about the people in the churches I had served over my fifty-seven years of ministry. My thoughts would begin in my first church, West Boxford, go on to North Reading, and then to the other churches I had served as pastor.
As I waited for the nurse to come and get me for my appointment, I watched the clock and wanted to be called for MRI. Sure enough, after a wait of twenty minutes, a technician came to get me, and we were “off to the races.” They made me as comfortable as they could with a pillow behind my bent back and my nose almost touching the top of the capsule. Was I going to be able to handle this for an hour? They put ear plugs in my ears because of the noise and into the machine I slid.
Now I do not wish you to ever dread this for each x-ray procedure is different. What I hope is that by my sharing my experience that you find a way to turn to faith in God when you and when I face the unknown. I knew that God was with me and that the hour would pass – not quickly, but it would pass.
Is it strange I would be walking with you today on Passion Sunday and telling you my story? How Jesus must have wished for his trial and crucifixion to be over. What is an MRI or some of the experiences we must face compared to what happened to our Lord? It was upon Jesus I called to be with me when I entered what I dreaded as “the worst of times.” Amid the words, “breath in, breathe out, hold your breath,” I said the Lord’s Prayer, and I repeated the twenty-third Psalm. As the machine rapped and sang as the word “in, out, hold,” became more frequent, I could still recall those I had known and loved in my ministry. They walked with me as did a loving Father.
Among my many thoughts as I recalled those of my church in North Reading was the memory of a young girl named Joanie. You may have heard me mention her in some of my sermons before this walk. Joanie had a beautiful voice and sang in our youth choir. Unlike some of those in the senior choir, Joanie was always willing to sing whenever she was asked. This pastor should not perhaps disclose that some elder choir members had to have just certain conditions if they were going to sing with their talented voices, not so with Joanie.
She was not too heavy, but she was not thin. She had the face of an angel, and she sang with an angel’s voice. My heart was always filled when she sang – her eyes, her face, her joyful spirit all expressed her love and faith. Sadly, her mother had cancer and passed away in her early forties. Joanie took on the responsibility of watching over her sister and brother and to take care of her father as well.
One night some years later when I had left North Reading and Joanie was around twenty, I had a call from her father to tell me she was dying of cancer and was frightened. Would I go and visit her in the Hospital in Boston?
I saw her twice in the hospital. The first time we talked I know she was more at ease about what was happening to her. I told her that when she was better, I wanted her to come and sing in the new church I was serving. Her reply was, “Oh Rev, I would sound like a frog.” When I left her, my heart was so sorrowful for she was one of the most wonderful young people I had ever come to know. I still feel that way about her.
The second time and last time I visited she told me she had had a high fever during the night, and they had opened her window to cool her off. Joanie spoke to me saying, “Rev. it snowed on me last night.” A short time later, I stood by where she was to be put to rest. After all of the mourners had left, and I was the last one there, I placed a rose on her resting place and left. It was a day that will never be forgotten by me ever. Now, why this story on my walk? I’ll tell you.
In my thoughts about heaven, I always thought that if I am found worthy of that place, I would like to have Pavarotti singing as I came to the pearly gates. I did so wish to hear him sing in person. Dale even had tickets to the tenor’s concert at what is now Patriot’s Stadium, but it was cancelled. So in heaven, I might get to hear him sing in person. But in that “worst of times” last Thursday, I believe my thoughts came from God. I no longer need to hear Pavarotti’s voice, but rather the voice of an angel called Joanie. That is the voice I would most like to hear singing in eternity, and her voice would not sound like a frog. It would be a voice to me more beautiful than Pavarotti’s.
Now the “worst of times” ended as the best of times for my heart was in better condition than was believed. So, all of my doctor’s appointments ended with good news.
The last appointment that week was on Friday when Dale and I had our second covid 19 vaccination. What a week! But it was a week when God was ever so close, and he blessed me once again by reminding me of what is truly meaningful in life – the people who have touched our lives with the gift of love and a God who is always present.
“And now may the Lord watch between me and thee while we are absent one from the other. Amen.”
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