Almost 500 years ago, Martin Luther wrote a pamphlet, Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague. He offers sage advice which is highly relevant today. Indeed, the first sentence is highly important. Now, his statement, “…those who are so uncouth and wicked as to despise God’s word while they are in good health should be left unattended when they are sick…” may indeed be true, but, as a pastor, I hope that I am allowed to minister to all who desire to hear of God’s mercy.
[How to prepare for death:] First, one must admonish the people to attend church and listen to the sermon so that they learn through God’s word how to live and how to die. It must be noted that those who are so uncouth and wicked as to despise God’s word while they are in good health should be left unattended when they are sick unless they demonstrate their remorse and repentance with great earnestness, tears, and lamentation….
Second, everyone should prepare in time and get ready for death by going to confession and taking the sacrament once every week or fortnight. He should become reconciled with his neighbor and make his will so that if the Lord knocks and he departs before a pastor or chaplain can arrive, he has provided for his soul, has left nothing undone, and has committed himself to God. When there are many fatalities and only two or three pastors on duty, it is impossible to visit everyone, to give instruction, and to teach each one what a Christian ought to know in the anguish of death. Those who have been careless and negligent in these matters must account for themselves. That is their own fault. After all, we cannot set up a private pulpit and altar daily at their bedside simply because they have despised the public pulpit and altar to which God has summoned and called them.
Third, if someone wants the chaplain or pastor to come, let the sick person send word in time to call him and let him do so early enough while he is still in his right mind before the illness overwhelms the patient.