Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Midnight Cry

The dead in Christ shall rise to meet him in the air, and then those that remain, shall be quickly changed; in a moment....At the Midnight Cry, we’ll be going home!”

     These words cannot be spoken without my hearing the melody line of a song recorded by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir. The lead vocals would be sung by a young man who we have had the privilege of serving together with in ministry for several years. For four years worth of Easter programming our church closed the service with this song; partially because of the message of the song, and partially because our young friend sang the socks off it.

     I truly enjoyed hearing it each and every year. However, there was one year when it held a special significance. At a board meeting, one of our elders had shared a prayer request for a nine-year old boy who lived in his neighborhood and was dying of cancer. The boy’s name was Alex. I had prayed for this boy who came from a non-Christian home on several occasions, but having never met him my prayers were somewhat generic. That changed the night before Easter.

     Susan, the wife of the elder who originally brought us the prayer request, called a few months before Easter and told me that the family had decided to bring Alex home from the hospital and that it was possible that he may pass away within days. I called the family to tell them that if there was anything I could do to help them to please give me a telephone call. Their response was very to-the-point, “We will let you know.” Somehow, Alex hung on to life far beyond everybody’s expectations. Weeks went by, then a month, and still he was alive. As Easter approached, the whole church was praying for the boy. Susan called again and told me that she had walked across the street and invited him to “Eggstravaganza”, an outreach-type of event that our church sponsored on the Saturday before Easter. We had a massive egg-hunt in the playground area outside the church, followed by a mini-carnival inside the gym, with prizes and cotton candy, and brief appearance from our children’s choir. About half-way through the morning, Susan found me on the playground and excitedly said to me, “Alex is here with his Dad. I want you to come and meet them!.”

     So, a short time later I went inside the gym and scanned around the room, until I located a young boy in a wheel-chair and made my way over to him. I greeted the father first. He was understandably short on conversation. Then I greeted Alex. A week earlier he had informed his parents that he wanted to take up scuba diving. Alex was not short on conversation. We talked for about 8-10 minutes. He had a sack full of candy and Easter eggs that several of the kids in the church had contributed to. Despite his sallow skin and sunken eyes, you could tell he was enjoying himself. He was determined to do so.
     As I was readying to leave the boy, I said, “I’m glad to finally meet you Alex. So many of the people here at the church have been praying for you for a long time.”

     “Thank you,” he said.
     “It would be great if you could come to the Easter program tomorrow.”
     “We’ll be here!” Alex said.
     No hesitation. He responded so quickly it surprised me. I knew that his parents were not believers and were apprehensive about church involvement of any kind, so I tried to give his Father an out,               
     “Well, maybe you better talk it over with your Dad.”
    “We’ll be here!” he repeated.
     His Dad smiled at me weakly and I smiled back.
    That night my wife awoke around 2am and felt as though we should pray for Alex and his father. So we did. The next morning’s program went very well. When the second service started, we still had not seen Alex, but midway through the choir’s first number, I saw his father push him through the foyer doors and into the sanctuary. He moved the wheel chair around to the back row, all the way to the rear of the room and there they sat down.
     As the program came to it’s climax; a mix of music and personal stories of how Christ had brought several lives from despair to victory, we paused for a moment to allow those in the congregation to respond to the call of the Holy Spirit. Several came forward to the altar to pray. Then I asked for anyone who could not come forward, but wanted to open their hearts to Christ to raise their hand. Several hands shot up, including a spindly little one on the very back row. Alex prayed along with me as I led in a simple prayer of salvation. Then I left the platform and the choir finished up the service with Midnight Cry, followed by loud applause and the house lights going up.
     My wife spent some additional time talking with Alex’s dad as many milled around the boy while he bubbled with the excitement of being the center of attention. A short time later they were gone and we were clearing out ourselves as the next service was getting ready to start. I watched as Alex and his father went down the sidewalk toward their car, thinking of how Christ was going to give him a brand new body some day; one without cancer. Someday all of the struggle would be over for all of us… We’ll be quickly changed; in a moment.

     Alex died about ten days later. Somewhere there is an empty wheel-chair that a nine-year-old boy used to ride in, he doesn’t need it anymore, in fact, today he is busy scuba diving.