For the last week I have visited Trinity Hospice where a dear friend, Fr. John Sterling lay dying. His death last night, at 7:30 pm, was a welcome relief in many ways. Fr. John was 84 and had buried his wife about six years ago. At her funeral, a part of him died as well. He was never the same. For a time he continued working at St. Andrews, and I believe that this work was a source of meaning for him. Then he had a stroke on the altar. He recovered enough to return to work, but there was a difference. He had always preached from a text, but now it was noticably more difficult for him. One Sunday he had low sugar and again he went down on the altar. He returned a short time later, but it was clear that his time had passed.
It is a sad thing to witness the decline of any person, but especially someone as sweet and loving as John. The last two years, he has been home. He handed over his license. He was sad. I called periodically and went by to see him from time to time. He readily expressed his desire to be done with the earth. He made it clear that he would do nothing to hasten his own end, but made it just as clear that his end could not come soon enough.
Sunday, March 20, marked the seventeenth anniversary of my mother's death. My daughter was born almost exactly a year later. My kids never met her. Perhaps some day they will. I do not know how family connections work in the afterlife. Some people are sure that we will be back together with our kin folks. Such family reunions may be heaven for some. Other people say that if they are with their family for eternity it would be hell. I think that is worthy of pondering, too. I am not sure about family reunions in heaven, but I am clear that the central focus will be the Triune God. We are there to love and serve HIM. Everyone else will be secondary.
Fr. John, was called Fr. Love here. He was much gentler and sweeter than I am. I used to tell him, "at least they like you!" He always had a twinkle in his eye and was known for his jokes. His last sermon here, two years ago, was like hearing the Gospel from Bob Hope. But 'Love' and 'Hope' were part of his faith. He was someone who loved and served the Lord. He had a great sense of joy. He was beloved as well as loving. Now he is gone. As I sat with his corpse, praying, I found myself wondering if he was there with me, seeing it all. In those near-death books people claim that they saw family members around their dead bodies. The Bible does not tell us much about the process of dying. It gives us hope that death is not the final word. But I still find myself wondering. Where is he now? What is it like? Is there a purging needed or is there a process of transformation that takes place quickly and painlessly. What do the spirits of the departed do all day? Is there an "all day" on the other side, or is it timeless and "eternally now"? Lots of question, not many answers. But I do know that John entrusted his life to Jesus and tried to live as a follower of Jesus. That is the only answer I do have. I will share with you the two things he said to me most often: "The Lord does not tell us that we have to be successful, just faithful" and "We need to say our prayers and do our best and leave the rest to the Lord." That is a nice epitath.