My cell phone rang during the communion liturgy of our afternoon service yesterday (Good Friday). I know, I should turn it off before service but there are only a handful of people who have the number, including those who are receiving acute pastoral care from me.
After the service, I checked the message and it was Holly Spooner, the wife of Neil Spooner, one of our elders. Neil had been battling cancer but we were convinced that he had a few weeks left even a few months before being called home. I had forgotten that I had given Holly my cell phone number so I had no clue it would be her calling about Neil. I gave her my number almost two years ago while Neil was having an eight hour spinal surgery to remove the cancerous tumor. The surgery was a great success but a few months ago the cancer sprouted lobes in his lungs that ended up suffocating our Brother of John the Steadfast, Neil Spooner at the age of 42. He is survived by his wife Holly and young daughter Laura.
Neil is a unique Brother of John the Steadfast. He has supported the Lutheran Confessions ever since transferring to our church a few years ago. He also wrote an article in the last BJS Quarterly on the connection between the Lutheran Confessions and the Bible.
His last hours were short on oxygen but they were long on steadfast faith that was fed by the body and blood of our Lord. I was able to commune Neil at home about a week ago before the family left for a relaxing week in Florida. Neil came to church every Sunday, hobbling along with a cane and then in the last year, with a walker. Everyone waited patiently as he made his way up to the communion rail week after week. This may sound like a eulogistic overstatement but it is not. Up until my last visit with him, I had never heard Neil complain. He did complain that last time I communed him. He complained that he was having panic attacks a few times a day when he would have trouble gasping for air. We prayed that God would give his body rest and comfort and then he received his last Holy Supper. Just a few days later he got his final comfort and is now breathing the air of heaven.
I did not know it at the time, but the ring of that phone was the sweetest ring our sanctuary has ever heard. It was even more beautiful than the whirling zimbelstern going off during the Sanctus. (The zimbelstern is a stop on the organ that plays a heavenly, star-twinkling sound usually used during parts of the liturgy that give praise to the Holy Trinity.) What a wonderful coincidence that the Lord would call Neil home while the congregation was about to receive the supper that he cherished so much.
Neil will be missed by his family. He will be missed by his church family as well. He was a great defender of the true faith. Thankfully, there are more faithful men here at Bethany Lutheran who are willing and able to take a vacant spot on the Board of Elders. May we all work hard to raise up steadfast brothers to take Neil’s place. Oh Lord, keep us steadfast in your word.