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Column: When mortal ills prevail

It was a typical Sunday morning.  Mom and Dad were up in the choir loft.  My older sisters were sitting in the high school pew where I, aged 10, was definitely not allowed.  I was sitting with the deacons in my favorite spot: at the back, with a clear view of everyone and everything that went on in the sanctuary.  

Only this time the overflow room was open, which meant that there were people behind me, too.  But I was OK with that.  No big deal.  

The service began, and I stood dutifully for the first hymn, holding the blue hymnal and singing, perhaps, this Martin Luther favorite ...

“A mighty fortress is our God! / A bulwark never failing.”

And suddenly my tummy groaned.  Not in an “I’m hungry” kind of way.  But rather in an “I’m going to be sick” kind of way.  But it had been drilled into me that I was supposed to stay in church and not leave.  I was to use the restroom prior to the service, and I was not to exit the room for any reason.  I was to sit beside the deacons and not budge.  

So I ignored my tummy’s warnings.   And kept on singing.  

“A helper he amid the flood / of mortal ills prevailing.”

It was as if Martin Luther was a prophet or something, because, wow, my mortal ills totally prevailed that day.  

I threw up.  Right there in the middle of church.  And all those poor people in the overflow room knew it.  

The deacons were very helpful.  So was my school bus driver, who, as I recall, jumped up and led me to the bathroom.  

Mom and Dad, way up in the choir loft, were oblivious.  

I got cleaned up.  The floor did, too.  I began to feel a little bit better.  

So I returned to the sanctuary.

Yes, I did.  I wasn’t supposed to leave, remember?  I honestly never even considered that maybe this was one of those times when to skip the service would have been OK.

I sat down on my pew.  I probably got a lot of dubious looks from the deacons.  I swung my feet.  I kinda listened to the sermon.  And then, suddenly, it happened again.  

All over the floor, all over myself.

My parents, now sitting in the front, were still oblivious.  My sisters ought to have noticed but they pretended not to.

God bless those deacons.

I saw one of them a couple of years ago, when I was back visiting my old church.  He’s old and gray.  A little bit stooped.  I thought he was old back then, but he can’t have been that far off of what I am now.  Most of the rest of them have gone on to be with Jesus, where no one throws up during service, and they don’t have to mop up the results of our mortal ills.  

The truth, of course, is that Luther was writing not about the stomach flu … but about sin.  The true “mortal ill” that prevails within us.  And Jesus, Luther’s “man of God’s own choosing” is sitting beside us, ready and willing to mop up our failings.  

All we need to do is ask.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  1 John 1:9.

Gretchen O’Donnell is a freelance writer who lives in rural Worthington with her husband and three children. She has a master’s degree from Bethel Seminary and enjoys writing about the things she sees and applying theological truths to everyday situations. Her column, The Disheveled Theologian, runs monthly.