As the congregation stood, I buttoned my jacket and pushed back the tears. I joined in the chorus as Bill led us, and the deacon body was ushered out of the sanctuary.
I looked across to see the casket moving down the center aisle, and then I watched his widow as he passed. She was singing as she turned to follow her husband down the aisle. Her hope in Christ and her love for her husband as strong as ever, she rested upon the truth we sang together.
My throat tightened.
I looked to see Bill, standing at the pulpit, leading us. Conducting with his hands and singing, “I heard an old, old story, how a Savior came from glory,” he looked upon the family. The weight of the moment sat upon his shoulders like the world upon Atlas as he watched them begin to leave. Bill’s hands kept conducting, his mouth shut –he could not continue to sing. I could feel the tears in my eyes as I saw them in his.
“O Victory in Jesus,
My Savior, forever.
He sought me and bought me
With his redeeming blood…”
I grew up in this sanctuary. Red carpet, white pews and columns. Today I realize something about my parent’s friends within the church – those whom I always greeted to and would make a point to visit on Sundays when home from school: I have been learning from them my entire life. I watched these men lead their wives, their families since I was little. I saw their example long before I was old enough to make sense of it all. Year after year I have seen them age, as they surely have said the same for me. I hear it often. They are my family in Christ. Ministers, lawyers, salesmen, bankers, doctors, and mechanics – they are men who love Jesus and have sought to follow him the best they can. What a legacy they have, what a story their lives tell of God’s faithfulness.
“He loved me ere I knew Him,
and all my love is due Him…”
From the lives they lead, to the way the face the days ahead–embracing truth over despair, hope over sadness–the Church is the body the teaches its members and raises its children.
I ran into Bill a few weeks ago at a coffee shop. We sat and talked; he was kind enough to let me interrupt his reading for a little while. We talked of our friend ,whose funeral I stand at now, and there is Bill behind the pulpit. We talked about his grandchildren which are are my age. He asked about life for me, and what my plans were for the next few years. I sipped my coffee while we talked about my family and his.
I stood to leave, and thanked him for his friendship over the years, and for taking the time to talk with me. We parted ways.
This is the next time I see Bill. His hands are leading the congregation, as has been their habit for decades. His voice is silent, as he tries to hold himself together. As he watches the casket head outside, I see anew the beautiful truth that we all try to avoid: we are but bit players here on earth. Our lives are part of God’s story, our days wound together as we follow Jesus the best we can through hope and grace.
When life leaves us undone –
God has given Jesus to redeem, heal, and transform us.
“And some sweet day I’ll sing up there the song of Victory….”
Praise God for the lives of His saints, his redeeming of sinful souls for His glory.