Take My Hand Precious Lord

Precious Lord, take my hand, Lead me on, let me stand: I am tired, I am weak, I am worn; Through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light; Take my hand, precious Lord, Lead me home.

There is something about these lyrics, especially when sung in the slow soulful way its musical accompaniment is written that resonates deeply in our hearts. How many of us, after the event of 9/11 are feeling tired, weak and worn as we have been inundated with the effects of hurricanes Katrina and Irene, tsunamis that have devastated both Japan and Indonesia, and now a typhoon which has wreaked havoc in the Philippines. If the succession of natural disasters has not worn us down, after seven years of economic frustrations, the demand for assistance throughout our neighborhoods continues to grow at such a rate our food pantries are now barely able to meet the demand.

On the personal level, I’m not sure there is a single person in this room whose life in recent years has not been put in turmoil and despair due to cancer or some other form of catastrophic illness or death.

Again this week, more have died due to gun violence. In the midst of these ever growing statistics we feel numb, overwhelmed. . . . we feel helpless.

Yes, we understand what Thomas Dorsey felt when he wrote Precious Lord j just months after his young wife and newborn son died in the midst of childbirth. Life is hard, and we are tired, we are weak and we are worn and we see no end in sight.

To make matters worse,in this morning’s Gospel Jesus tells us to expect basically the same between now and the arrival of the kingdom or reign of God. We heard Jesus tell his followers that between now and the kingdom the Temple will be destroyed, nations will rise against nations, there will be earthquakes, plagues and other portents or phenomena that will precede the coming of the kingdom. But how long are we to hold on for, or better yet, how much longer can we hold on for? Because like Thomas Dorsey we are tired, weak and worn.

Unfortunately, I cannot say to stay tuned until next week and the answer will come when we celebrate the Last Sunday of Pentecost, now more popularly referred to as the Feast of Christ the King. Next week’s Gospel brings us to the crucifixion, not the resurrection as we would expect.

So how are we, in the midst of Christ’s suffering on the cross, to find hope and celebration? Some will say in the midst of the crucifixion we can come to understand what the reign of God will look like, how leadership and power is understood. And it is possible we will explore this next week. Some argue that the crucifixion offers comfort because we believe in a God who not only understands the burden of human suffering, we believe in a God who has experienced our suffering first hand. If we were in the midst of reading St. Mark’s or St. Matthew’s Gospels, I would say this argument bears exploring as they depict the final words of Christ being words of total desolation and despair, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me!” St. Luke, however, ends his telling of the crucifixion differently. He ends with words of resignation. “ Into your hands I commend my spirit.”

If we were to step back from the crucifixion and allow ourselves to see it within it the fuller context of Salvation History, the epic war between God and Evil, what Luke conveys is that the victory of the cross does not come when Jesus allows himself to be nailed to the cross. Instead, the victory comes at the final moment, when tired, weak and worn, Jesus gives up his choice to live and chooses to die as places himself fully in the hands of God.

Thomas Dorsey, in the midst of his own pain and grief prays, “Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home.” There is no greater moment of peace than when we are finally able to let go of all the burdens and control of our lives and give it over to God. More often than not, those moments only come when we are so tired, weak and worn down by the battles of life we can no longer hang onto what we feel we need to in order to carry on and God becomes the only option. Howard Thurman, the late African American theologian and a former chaplain at Boston University, has seen suffering change people, “Into their faces,” he writes, “comes a subtle radiance and a settled serenity; into their relationships a vital generosity that opens sealed doors of the heart in all who are encountered.”

To some degree, I have experienced the desolation Thomas Dorsey writes of in Precious Lord and the consolation and peace that Howard Thurman observed.

On September 30, 2011, it felt as if the world as I knew it was coming to an end. It was late in the afternoon when my younger brother Kevin called to tell me my father was in the ER at Hartford Hospital, he was septic, and at this time critically unstable. As his medical proxy I needed to come home. When I arrived twenty-four hours later, I was devastated by what I saw. My father, one of the few persons I have gone to for advice and safety laid in an induced coma hooked up to numerous machines with a respirator doing his breathing for him. In a corner of my father intensive care room, my mother sat looking bewildered and very much afraid.

For the two years prior to my father’s illness, my brothers and I knew Mom was having memory issues. What we did not know was,to what extent. It appears Dad did a really good job covering up the extent of my mother’s dementia. Within a half hour it became clear that my mother was unable to make decisions for my father as she asked me over and over again what was wrong with my father and was he going to die.

There is an odd feeling that comes over you when you realize that your parents are now no longer able to provide the emotional comfort and care they have given you all your life and are now dependent on you. As the depth of my parent’s reality set in, my older brother Ken seamlessly assumed his role as power of attorney, and I struggled with the hospital to take charge of my father’s medical decisions and the weight of holding responsibility for his life.

I wish I could say a rhythm developed during the early weeks of his illness, but ICU’s do not have the consistent coverage one would expect and decisions often have to be made quickly and in as convenient a way as possible. For the first few weeks most decisions were pro forma, permissions were given for chest tubes and testing. Throughout these weeks, the chest tubes would look as if they were working as they drained the infection from the plural cavity . . . only for the infection to grow back rapidly within twenty-hours. After six weeks of little change it became evident, the protocol was not going to work, thoracic surgery was needed.

The surgeon however, was not convinced. Yes surgery was the best option, but my father was not strong enough to survive, the surgeon wanted to wait. As the days passed and still no real change, there was no way around it, surgery was the only recourse to recovery, but not necessarily survival. My younger brothers had no concerns, the risks for them were worth it. For my older brother and me, there were more questions to be answered. No one could tell us what life after surgery would be look like for my father. After several weeks in a coma, no one could answer to what level my father could recover physically and mentally. . .and was it worth putting my father through surgery if it would only kill him anyway. After many long conversations with family and finally with my own doctor, I was able to come to a decision if and when surgery was decided upon by his doctors. In my prayers the next morning, my words to God were at first were, “forgive me, because I really don’t know what I am doing,” and then, I did what I should have done eight weeks earlier, resign my father’s life into God’s hands. After all that is where his life had been all along.

As I finished my prayers , the peace Howard Thurman observed came over me. In that sense of peace I came to accept that whether my father lived or died, it would be alright. If he lived, he would still be with us, if he died, he would be with God.

Two days later the surgeon developed a third option to treat my father. He decided he would attempt the surgery robotically. It was a procedure he had never done before, but felt the chance was worth taking.

Two years later, by the grace of God my father is still alive and doing well. As I look back over that experience, I know this is the first of many difficult times ahead for my brothers and me in regards to our parents. I accept, that even as a priest, my life is not immune to tragedy and suffering which as today’s Gospel tells us, is, and will be part of our life here on earth. The good news I find in all of this, is, when we are ready, when we decide that we are too tired, weary and worn, all we need to do is reach for God and God will take us in God’s hands and lead us home.

Precious Lord, take my hand, Lead me on, let me stand: I am tired, I am weak, I am worn; Through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light; Take my hand, precious Lord, Lead me home.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Dorothy Pierce says:

    Thank you, Craig, for another great sermon.

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