Fourth Tuesday of Advent: Tangible Reminders
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
—1 Peter 2:9-10 (Read 1 Peter 2)
On Wednesday, April 22nd, two days before the end of an unprecedented junior year, my dad told me he had brain cancer.
The headaches that had begun a few months prior grew more and more painful, until he woke up that morning unable to sign his own name and decided to seek medical attention. His MRI scans revealed four glioblastomas flanking his motor cortex.
My mom, brother, and I drove my dad to Penn Presbyterian Medical Center in Philadelphia that afternoon, unable to stay the night with him or even enter the hospital due to COVID-19 safety protocols. Only the largest of his tumors, a sizable 4.5 centimeters, could be removed surgically, and this had to be done right away.
Just before he entered the hospital, in an attempt to bring him and myself some semblance of hope, I gave my dad the palm-sized, scarlet HoldingCross that I’d carried around since I was a senior in high school. I pressed it into his shaky hands, inviting his fingers to curl around it and call it home. It was smooth white oak, irregularly shaped, but purposefully comfortable to hold. I had painted it this brilliant shade of red so it would be harder to lose.
“It’s yours,” I urged. “A reminder that Jesus has you.”
He called me his rock, and we said goodbye for now. But I didn’t feel like a rock. To distract myself from the reality of my dad’s condition, I began to deep-clean his house and had a few too many drinks.
As my dad rolled into surgery at 5 a.m. two days later, my ever-loyal brothers and sisters in Christ gathered on Zoom to pray over my family. They came from all over: some from Cornerstone, the CCO’s ministry at the University of Pittsburgh; some from Mosaic, Pitt’s Christian a cappella group; and some from Woodside, my home church. Several of them had never even met. Even a friend then battling cancer himself was on the call.
Later in the day, a friend sent me a picture of the Zoom call. They hadn’t told me about it prior to the call because, at the same time, I had been on my own Zoom call, praying with my dad.
I was shocked at this demonstration of faith and love. I was astounded by God’s mercy. How could it be that I was so loved? That I am so loved? By humans? By God?
How could it be that in the particular darkness and isolation of this time—and even in darkness and isolation of my own sin—I was not alone?
How could it be that I, and my father too, are loved by the Father?
Witnessing the faith of my fellow believers brought me, humbled, to the foot of the cross, preparing me for a long summer as a 21-year-old caretaker for a cancer patient, a role-reversal complicated by a global pandemic. The Zoom picture was, oddly, a reminder of the future—a community of saints bound together in faith and reverence for the Lord. It was a reminder of my place in the body of Christ and my obligation to proclaim His praises, even—especially—now.
The gift of God in Christ Jesus is salvation, but not just for you or for me. It is for an entire community of believers, called to speak the light of Christ over this world. We are “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own possession, that [we] may declare the praises of him who called [us] out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).
And there, even in that screen shot, I was witnessing a Kingdom culture that refused to let darkness win.
—Morgan Crane is a student at the University of Pittsburgh and is involved Cornerstone, a CCO ministry at Pitt.