Toward the end of our church assemblies on Sunday mornings, I’ll usually stroll from my seat near the front of the worship center to take a position near the doors in the back. I do most of my hand-shaking and hugging and greeting back there. I’ll make that walk during the singing of a closing song. And, without fail, for the past couple of years, I’ve been grabbed from the center aisle about three-fourths of the way back.
Ray Manos always grabbed me. And he wouldn’t let go until I had hugged him or shaken his hand or patted his back. A year ago he would whisper, “Hi, Allan” or “Good job.” Recently, though, Ray would just smile. He would just grab me and smile.
Alzheimer’s wrecked my brother Ray. This horrible disease slowly and deliberately and without mercy took away his memory and his abilities to think and reason and converse.
But it never took away Ray’s smile. Ray kept smiling.
About six months ago Ray’s wonderful wife, JQ, pulled me aside after worship one day and said, “I hope Ray doesn’t embarrass you when he reaches out like that.”
Are you kidding me? It always made my week. It was one of the highlights of every Sunday for me. Ray couldn’t kid me anymore about my tie like he used to. He couldn’t challenge me on a sermon point or ask me about my girls like he used to. But he could still reach out to me and shake my hand and slap my back. And smile. He could still love me. And he did.
For the past several months, conversations with Ray have been one-sided; not really conversations at all. He couldn’t really ask questions anymore. He just answered them. Mostly. We were talking about the weather two weeks ago. Or, I guess, I was doing all the talking. Ray was listening. Then we/I started talking about Legacy. We/I began talking about the people in our church family. I reminded Ray that when my family and I moved to Legacy a little over three years ago, the very first congratulatory email we received was from him and JQ. They had expressed their excitement, pledged their love and support, vowed to be a source of encouragement to us.
Then Ray asked me a question about something I had preached the Sunday before. I reminded him that I had preached from 1 John. Ray thought for a moment and said, “I don’t believe I know him.”
Sunday morning, day before yesterday, Ray left us for the next life. He’s made that passage now. Eternal life in the holy presence of Almighty God belongs to him now. Perfect peace. Brand new body and mind. Ray is realizing right now the culmination — the fulfillment — of all the faithful promises and plans of our Lord. For him and for all of us.
But that doesn’t mean I’ll never receive another hug or smile from Ray. Not at all. It’s coming.
Not this Sunday. That walk up the aisle at the close of our service this next Sunday will be sad for me. But it’s coming. I imagine the next time I see my brother Ray will be on that day of glory when, just like always, he’ll grab me and smile and say, “Good job.” And I look forward to it.
Lord, come quickly!