Sitting in a small auditorium inside the Veterans Center in Claremore, Oklahoma, Bobby bellowed this phrase from the side of the room. Bobby is one of my favorite human beings on the planet. He is 82, wheelchair bound, and is in and out of the hospital with various ailments. At times, he is hardly able to lift his head because he feels so horrible. Nevertheless, every Sunday morning you will hear him bellow out as loud as he can muster.
I have had the distinct privilege of attending this little church service a few times. My father, who plays guitar and writes his own songs, plays for their service the second and third Sunday each month. Each time he goes there, the guys are always so excited to see him. They don’t really know any of the lyrics to his songs, but they are eternally grateful that he chooses to spend time with them. They even yell out requests from time to time; and these guys are not shy about telling you what they think of your performance. They will tell you if they want you to “pick up the pace” or “play a little softer.” Every service my father plays, they demand that he play one song that he wrote a while back. They ask him about it as soon as he arrives and multiple times while he is playing. Ultimately, he plays it at the end of each service to a rousing applause, and every time he gets done playing and the pastor walks up to give his talk, you hear:
“What day is today, Pastor?”
There are a few things that make this place special. First, you are dealing with Veterans. These are men that have served in every branch of the military, in every war since WWII. They do not ask for anything but for you to treat them with respect and dignity, and if you do they almost always return the favor. Second, this is a hospital. Most of them do not get around too well, and some of them do not speak or hear very well; however, there they are each Sunday ready to receive a word from God. It is truly inspiring.
So what is the Pastor’s role in this call and response?
“Today is the best day of our lives because we are one step closer to being with our Lord Jesus!”
On the surface, this can sound a little morbid. In some ways they are saying that today is great because they are closer to dying, but in other ways the response is absolutely beautiful. Consider where these guys are. The Veterans Center is a hospital, almost a glorified hospice. Most of them are unable to be taken care of by their family, so they are at this place to receive the care they need for the rest of their lives. For the most part, they do not leave. Occasionally, a family member may check them out of the facility for a little while, but most of them are there for the long haul. This call and response symbolizes the hope that Jesus brings to their lives. They understand that they are not of this world and they belong to a loving God who is calling them home. To them, quite literally, every day is a precious gift.
I would be remiss if I did not also mention a man by the name of Henry. He is 92, a WWII veteran, and one of the most amazing singers I have ever heard. Every week, he sings either Amazing Grace or another gem of a song, and each and every time I get the privilege of hearing him sing, tears well up in my eyes. Words do not adequately describe the beauty coming out of this man’s mouth. The passion he puts behind every word is awe inspiring.
I do not get to go to the Veterans Center as much as I would like to. I live about 2 hours away from there, so it is not easy to get there on a given Sunday. But the lessons I receive from there last much longer than the hour I am there. I pray that I am more like Bobby. I pray that I too am able to say each day, “What day is today?” I pray that the response in my head is “Today is the best day of my life.” I pray that each day is filled with the hope and peace that Bobby possesses. I also pray that I am more like Henry. May I continue to use the gifts I have been given, even when I am 92 years old. May I always approach that gift with the passion and soul that Henry does. And last but not least, I pray to be like my father. His passion to serve these guys is unmatched. His joy in bringing his songs to them is evident with each note he sings.
May I have the hope, peace, passion, and servant’s heart of these great men!
Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans