Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver, a former Methodist pastor, embarrassed himself when he opened the new congressional session in Washington D.C. with a prayer that he concluded with, “amen and a-woman.” This was an apparent effort on the congressman’s part to encourage politically correct gender neutrality in language. Unfortunately for him, all he accomplished was to make himself appear ridiculous.
Of course, the word “amen” has no more to do with so-called gender identity than the words “menu,” “mental,” or “amendment.” “Amen” is a transliteration of a word meaning “so be it,” or “this is true.” In the Bible it is employed as a reverential statement of agreement or affirmation. For example, Psalm 106:48 says, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting: and let all the people say, Amen. Praise ye the Lord.” The New Testament Gospel of Matthew concludes with Jesus’ promise, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”
Amen is more than just a familiar way to close a prayer. Along with words such as “blessed” or “grace,” the word “amen” is a regular part of Christian vocabulary, faith, and culture. When I was a boy the hymns sung at my grandmother’s church always concluded with an “amen.” In some churches, “amen” is occasionally expressed by members of the congregation during the sermon as a testimony of agreement with the message. Following a special musical presentation or a word of testimony, some in the congregation say “amen” as way of communicating appreciation. Amen can also be an expression of certitude – an emphatic, “yes, this is so!”
Amen routinely closes a believer’s prayers, but it has also been known to close a Christian’s life. F.W. Boreham, in his devotional book A Reel of Rainbow, records a touching account of the passing of the French botanist Charles Henry Godet. Godet’s only brother Frederic was at his bedside when he died and wrote what happened. “Death has just separated me from my dear last brother. Nothing could have been more peaceful than his end. His soul was as calm as his body. I read to him the words, ‘Whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live, therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.’ He responded with an amen. It was the last word that my ears could catch; an amen that will live in my heart!”
When I first became a pastor, there was a man in the church named Paul Nauta. He often invited me to eat breakfast with him at local restaurants. I recall that we never ate at the same restaurant twice. His search for perfectly grilled potatoes and onions to go with his eggs was never satisfied. He attended our church less than half of the year. During the colder months Paul set an example of Christian devotion and service by how he employed his retirement. He did not play golf in Arizona or recline on Florida’s gulf coast. He labored in Mexico, doing construction and electrical work at an orphanage operated by missionaries.
I sat by Paul’s bedside shortly before an aggressive cancer ended his earthly pilgrimage. There was no conversation as he was too weak to talk. I simply read to him from Revelation 21 about a new heaven and a new earth. I read of God wiping away all tears; of there being no more death, sorrow, nor crying. Then I concluded with the fifth verse, “And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold I make all things new. And he said write, for these words are true and faithful.” At that point Paul seemed to want to say something. He struggled, drawing in a breath, and then exhaled with a soft yet emphatic, “Amen!” That was the last word I heard him utter. It remains to my memory something of a last testimony. What God had proclaimed in His word, Paul reverently believed was so. As he approached death, he declared his confidence in God’s promise. Affirmation, appreciation, certitude – it was all there in that wonderful word, “amen.”