My 13 year old teenage mind sat restless as Sunday evening church seemed to drag on.
My mind was dreaming of other things I could be doing in my teenage world this evening. I glanced over to the next dark hardwood bench where a few of my teen school friends sat in their casual evening Sunday dress, seemingly daydreaming of teenage things as well.
I reluctantly took a corner of the traditional blue hymnal as my mom beckoned me to the congregational singing with her. My reluctance became less as the words and the melody of the old familiar hymn rolled off my tongue… “When The Roll is Called Up Yonder” I had always loved to sing, even as a little child, settling in on my grandma’s blue 60s sofa with her own personal copy of our church hymnal.
The beautiful sounds of harmony streaming from all corners of the small country church rushed over me… and I smiled. It was home to my heart.
It was time for the message. The preacher slowly climbed the wooden steps to the center pulpit. The Elderly white haired preacher with his well worn black King James Bible tucked securely to his chest, took his spot at the wooden pulpit where he had stood many a time over the past 50 plus years.
I glanced at the hands on my petite black coveted wrist watch I had gotten the previous Christmas from my mom and dad. I settled in to make the best of it. I was going nowhere as my mom and dad flanked either side of me on the hard bench, listening intently to the words of the preacher now booming through the small congregation gathered this Sunday evening.
Suddenly, I was jolted out of my far away thoughts. as my unfocused eyes sharpened and my mind heard ripples of unmistakable shrill gasps of a few, making its way through the small town church. Seconds later, as all my senses tuned in to the now, the vision of our long time, white haired , King James Bible carrying preacher, gripping either side of the tall wooden pulpit, having less and less success as his whole being, went crashing to the floor, taking the pulpit preached from for over 50 years with him.
What happened next seemed to roll out in slow motion.
More and more people jumped into action. A nurse, a family member, a deacon… The preacher we all thought would be with us forever in our teenage minds was making his way to eternity despite the futile attempts of his rescuers from the congregation.
I huddled together with my teenage friends in the comfort of a long wooden pew far from the scene as the ambulance attendants burst through the church double doors never meant for this sort of thing, pushing a long narrow gurney with white sheets that seemed to speak loudly in their own way. This was church. All were welcome, but this didn’t ft.
Our church service had been changed in a moment in time. The white haired preacher, who had graced the small town pulpit for over 50 years, had moved on to his Heavenly home… in a moment in time.
As the story unfolded over the next few days, when his Bible and personal belongings were retrieved by his family from his long time post at the pulpit, it was discovered It was to be his last message preached. His wish according to his family was to enter Heaven doing what he was called to do and love… preach the Gospel with his last breath.
And so he did. How incredible.
I look back to that moment in time periodically. A Sunday night church service, and how my young mind translated from a listless Sunday evening church service to a life changing moment for a preacher and his congregation that included a listless teenager like me.
In a moment… life can change forever. The effects can be everlasting. Was anyone in that small congregation anticipating what would happen that Sunday evening? A strong NO I would venture to say, including the daydreaming teenager in me.
We all have a choice where we will spend eternity, yet eternity seems so far away at times. That day in my teenage mind, in a single moment, the turn came for one of Heaven’s souls. Now an everlasting citizen of the very Heaven he had preached about unwaveringly for over 50 years.
That night’s memory may have moved to the back of my mind through the years, but I know it changed me to this day.
I choose to try to live “in the moment” because that is what we have. And along with living in the moment, comes a certainty of eternity in Heaven, if it be 50 years from now or in one single moment. The Gray haired preacher did not know it was to be his last night on earth that Sunday evening over 4 decades ago now, but he was sure where he was going. He had preached about this eternity for so many years, accepting the free gift from his Savior many many years earlier as his testimony portrayed.
I too remember one night, under the covers of my blanket, at the tender age of 11 accepting that free gift of forgiveness and eternity in Heaven. FREE…. nothing I did… but everything HE did. Certainty of Heaven for me when the time comes, just as the time came for the old, Gray haired preacher that night…. He was prepared …I am prepared….we all can be…
ready at any moment.