It was a phone call I never expected, and a journey that continues to this day. The church phone rang and a voice said: “Chris wants you here. Both of her parents have been murdered.” On the 15-minute drive to their home I prayed: “God, I haven’t been trained for this, and I don’t know what to say to a family that has just discovered both their parents have been murdered. Use me as your instrument of comfort, assurance and hope.”
Later the family and I learned that the parents not only had been brutally murdered but by the hands of their son, Scott. The tragedy kept building and my prayer to God kept constant. Little did I know that four years later I would end up in the death chamber with Scott, marking the cross of Christ on his forehead with the blessing of the family, offering God’s healing and being healed myself.
I’ve had an opportunity few pastors ever have and a unique experience of journeying with a family that has lived out God’s grace and love in such profound ways that I know new depths of the gospel’s truth and life. As a pastor I preach about offering forgiveness, loving our neighbors and trusting in God’s grace. Rarely do I — do we — see people live it out in such dramatic ways.
On the Sunday before the execution, Scott’s four siblings and I talked after worship about how the family would handle the next few days. I encouraged them to continue what they had been doing over the last few years: give each person permission to do what they need to do. The important thing was to not let something happen that would create a rift in the family, causing the unity and love that existed to break apart. We started talking about whether they would see Scott one last time and how that might go. Cherie said Scott would like to receive communion from me and thought all the siblings could receive it with him. Bill, the brother, said firmly: “There is no way ... that I am having communion with Scott.” Bill was in a different place than the three sisters, but that was all right. The Lutheran shares Bill’s incredible transformation from where he was on that Sunday morning to where he was on the day Scott mouthed, “I love you bro,” moments before drugs would take his life (see "If grace is true..." in the July issue).
We did have communion—Bill included. And it was a meal where Christ’s presence was felt in such a visceral way that only words of poetry could catch the moment and God’s presence. My first prayer kept being answered over and over again as I prayed with Scott moments before his death and offered his family words of comfort and hope on this journey. It’s an odd experience to know you have been so blessed through such tragic events, but I’m the recipient of countless blessings and opportunities to bear the good news and have the gospel lived out before my eyes. As I continue to journey with this family as their pastor, I pray the blessings of living out the gospel will continue to be theirs and that your life will be in some small way transformed also.
© 2016 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers