A precipice is defined as a “very steep rock face or cliff”. We usually speak of a precipice as a dangerous place to be. But yesterday I stood on a precipice and it wasn’t dangerous at all. It was the precipice of heaven.
She was an important member of my parish family. Sweet, warm, tender, hospitable, irresistible. Always interested in others. Always ready to pray. When health issues beset her, she let me come and visit her. We would sit together and talk gently about suffering. About how it connects us in a special way with our Suffering Savior; in a way that somehow sanctifies the suffering. In the hardest times, I would bring Communion to her home and we would pray; my hand on hers with her dear husband sitting close by. When the bread and wine touched her tongue, Jesus arrived and He came into her body in a special way. Treasured, precious moments. We three in the cloud of His presence.
I stood on the precipice of heaven yesterday as her family gathered at her hospital bedside and committed her into the Lord’s care. I led in the prayers of Last Rites. Her husband placed his forehead against her and wept. We sang Amazing Grace and chose to believe that “when we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, there’ll be no less days to sing God’s praise than when we first begun.” I ached because both the pain and the beauty were so acute. She would soon see Jesus face-to-face — how beautiful is that? And those she loved would be left without her — how painful is that?
But for me who faces death with more than occasional frequency, I am left with the mystery of the precipice. In these moments, heaven draws breathtakingly close. As I walk alongside the one who is dying, closer and closer to the edge of the precipice, I find my spirit standing on tiptoes. I can feel the essence of heaven pressing in. I can almost glimpse its glory and amazement. I can almost smell its sweet fragrance. I can almost touch the density of its truth. I can almost hear its accompaniment by angels with the saints gathered round to welcome the one who is soon coming in.
This precipice is most assuredly not a dangerous place to be. This thing we call death which we fear or deny, is merely the place where we come to stand on tiptoes and wait to hear our Savior say, “Come, O blessed of my Father; inherit the kingdom prepared for you.”
This post is dedicated to the memory of Susan Grantham
and to her husband Cobb and children John, Jeanne and Hagen.
After more than 25 years in parish ministry, Rev. Cathie retired in early 2018 to pursue a quieter life with her husband Philip in the mountains of Central Oregon. Although no longer a leader in congregational life, she continues to follow her calling and passion to minister to those who suffer, especially those with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.