It has been five years since I wrote this, five years since the events that precipitated it. The anniversary brought it back to me, and I thought it was worth sharing.
Yesterday I saw church. Not a church. Certainly not what most people think of as a church, a building with a steeple. Not even the worship gathering that Christians commonly think of as “church”. No, I saw THE church. In action.
The location was unusual. It was in the lobby of a hospital. We tend in this nation to forget that the vast majority of our hospitals were built and funded by churches. But that fact made the location oddly appropriate. Jesus made it even more appropriate. In the book of Matthew, Jesus said he came to the sick, not the healthy. That’s why we were there – for the sick.
One was physically sick. Badly injured, unable to speak, move, or even breathe for himself, our brother, Daniel Roberts, lay in a bed in ICU, clinging to life. The rest of us were there because we were heart sick. We were heart sick for Daniel, for his parents, Ron and Mary, for his sisters, Domecia, Lydia, Lynae, and Victoria. We were heart sick for ourselves. We were heart sick for each other.
We were there because we are church.
Daniel was injured on Sunday afternoon. He suffered a massive head trauma and apparently had at least one stroke. On Sunday evening, we began to learn of his condition, and the church started to gather. At first it was just a few, a trickle. Then, as word spread, the trickle grew into a rivulet, a stream, a flood. Twice, as the response grew, the hospital staff moved the group to larger areas. And still it grew. It became much more than a gathering. It became a vigil.
It became church.
Some brought food. Some brought blankets and pillows and sleeping bags. Some brought gifts and books and games. All brought love, and prayers, and hope. Here is a group of pre-teen girls gathered around young Victoria Roberts, offering comfort as friends, peers, sisters. Here is a gathering of Daniel’s friends, sharing remembrances and stories from his life, from his recent mission trip to Valles, Mexico. There are some men and women with kids of their own Daniel’s age, praying together for healing, for life, for peace, for understanding. Everywhere are hugs, encouragement, reports of Daniel’s condition, comfort, tears, even laughter. For Daniel loves laughter, and generates it wherever he goes.
As the doctors work over Daniel, reports come in. There is hope! He is responding a little, and breathing on his own occasionally. Thanksgiving, joy, praise, all ring out in the lobby. Those passing by stare at the crowd. Some smile and nod. Some frown. Some are puzzled. People come in and receive all the latest updates. People leave to return to jobs and homes, to get a little rest or take care of a little business. But most return. The composition of the group changes, but still it grows. Lydia and Lynae Roberts arrive from Ruidoso, where they have been on their mission trip. They are welcomed with hugs and tears, and go to see their brother.
On Monday evening, Ron and Mary Roberts come downstairs and motion for everyone to gather around them. The news is grim. Tests say that Daniel is no longer getting blood flow to his brain. Another test will be done in a couple of hours to confirm.
His voice breaking, Ron says, “We couldn’t have done this without you. We’re going to donate Daniel’s organs. Daniel has a new body now.”
“We’re going to throw one great party,” says Mary. Then, “We would like you to go up in twos to say goodbye to our boy.”
Tears flowed anew as the church gathered around Ron and Mary. In truth they dealt out as much comfort as they received. The two young men who were with Daniel when he was injured cried out, sobbing. Mary Roberts went and spoke to each of them, offering her love, her comfort. All around the room were those comforting and receiving comfort.
Some felt the battle had not yet been lost and encouraged us to further prayer on Daniel’s behalf. Regardless of our feelings, we all clung together and prayed. We prayed for healing. For comfort. For peace. For God’s will. Soon voices began to lift quiet songs of praise. Song followed on song, scripture on scripture, prayer on prayer. People lined up to go upstairs and spend a few moments with Daniel. As they came back down, those waiting held them and loved them.
Monday night Daniel leapt into the arms of Jesus. He got a new body and a crown. He left behind many people who love him still. We miss his smile, his easy laugh, his quirky humor. The tears we cry are for ourselves, for each other, for his family. They’re real tears nonetheless. But Daniel cries no more. He looks down on us and smiles.
For he sees church.