Sunday, March 05, 2006
The Night the Angels Sang
When the doctor entered my sister’s hospital room we suddenly knew from the expression on his face that something was terribly wrong. My wife, mother, and brother-in-law, Sarah’s husband, listened in disbelief as he informed us that her cancer was in the last stages. My sister was only 26; she had three adorable children; she was beautiful, bright and talented; and in a few weeks at most, she was going to die.
Sarah was dismissed from the hospital just in time to prepare for a last Christmas with her family. She went to the shop which sold her artwork near her home in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, and bought back enough of her paintings to give one to each member of her family. Contrary to her doctor’s expectations, she stayed strong for the Holiday by sheer grit and determination.
Sarah’s boys, Charles and Mike, were delighted when they found new sleds under our tree on Christmas morning. Her baby daughter, Debbie, loved her new doll. As we sat around the breakfast table on that happy/sad day, Sarah gazed wistfully out the window and said, “This has been the perfect Christmas. The only thing that could make it better is if it would snow.”
As if the heavens were awaiting their cue, the snow began at that precise moment. Six inches covered the ground by the time the table was set for Christmas dinner.
As the New Year began, Sarah’s condition deteriorated rapidly. By mid-January she was re-admitted to the hospital. I did not know it would be her final evening when I took my turn at staying with her for the night.
Early in the evening Sarah asked if I would sing with her. Over and over throughout the night she would awaken and begin singing again a song which had been a favorite of hers since childhood,
Oh love of God, how rich and pure,
How measureless and strong,
It shall forevermore endure
The saints and angel’s song.
Interspersed with her singing, Sarah prayed. There was no petition – just a stream of praise flowed from her lips to the God she loved. Throughout the night nurses would stand silently in the doorway and listen. It was an unusual worship experience. A warm, strangely wonderful presence I had never sensed before seemed to fill the room.
The next day was more of the same. Between short naps, Sarah would sing and pray. At her request, the whole family came over, a few at a time, to sing with her.
Late that afternoon, Sarah called her husband down to her bedside and told him of her love. She smiled at me with a mischievous grin that spoke volumes without words. Then her eyes darted around the room and she gasped with excitement, “Listen! The angels are singing.”
I heard nothing, but a chill shot up my spine. Sarah sang a few exuberant notes, then stopped and chided, “Come on; can’t you hear the angels? Let’s sing with them.”
What happened during the next hour was not to be described. I felt as if I had been privileged to hold the hand of one who was already living in the supernatural realm beyond.
I thought the air could not be any more spiritually charged. That was before Sarah squealed, “There He is! There’s Jesus!” I looked in the direction toward which Sarah’s eyes were fixed and saw only an empty corner.
And now Sarah seemed to forget everyone and everything else around her, as she beheld her Lord. She weakly reached her arms upward and cried and laughed at once, “Oh Jesus. I love You, Jesus. I want to be with You, Jesus.”
Something rumbled deep down inside Sarah and she expelled her final breath. Her arms dropped; her eyes rolled back. All was silent. She had entered her rest.
I leaned my head against the wall and wept uncontrollably. I’m still not sure exactly why.
Sarah always loved the snow, and a fresh blanket covered the ground the day we buried her. As family and friends watched her casket being lowered into an East Tennessee hillside, I sensed that Sarah was standing there beside us, wearing her mischievous grin.