Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou thinkst thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death…
It feels as though it shouldn’t happen on sunny days and yet it inevitably does. People seem to make a point of passing away under clear blue skies as though to drive home the point that Hollywood is wrong.
And every time it takes us by surprise.
To those who claim that door-knocking is not an effective means of evangelism, a story must be told. A story whose first chapter closes in bittersweet victory.
Two young men once knocked on the door of a man who had climbed a mountain and camped there among a constellation of rock hyraxes. He had professed faith once upon a time but long since given up on church.
The young men invited him anyway.
He came anyway.
We still bless the summer day Tim opened his door.
Five years passed and he blossomed and flourished like the many beautiful things he grew in his garden. Over the course of that time, we as a church gained a brother beyond value and he came tentatively back from the far country to find that the years that the locusts had eaten had been restored.
Then came the New Year and noisy wards, and as our brother clocked up hospital hours and evangelised the nurses, our conviction grew that he was nearing the end of his race.
Last time I saw him, I held his hand, cool and purple-tinged against the powder blue of the blanket. They were the same hands that had spared an alligator egg in curiosity; the same hands that had passed smuggled Bibles into the possession of German believers decades before; the same hands that had patiently helped his grandchildren to plant vegetables; the same hands which had grasped us in joyful Sunday morning hugs. The same hands which had rested, neatly folded, atop his walking stick as he sat and laughed and talked and prayed.
I thought about the last five years and how life is made up of so many ordinary days. The thought of Tim brings to mind a beautiful garden full of honeysuckle and hellebore, lovingly tended by a man in green; the sound of his walking stick clicking across the church floor; the sight of him and the boy who brought him back laughing and talking amongst the sunshine and shrubbery. When I think of him, I think of how he made all of us laugh, of how honestly and earnestly he prayed for his family, for us, for the many people he shared the gospel with at bus stops and in supermarket queues; of how much he has come to mean to us without us really realising it.
And I wondered if the world would somehow just stop when he was gone. I wondered if his garden would wilt and fade in that moment. But life’s not like the movies.
It was a sunny day and the world kept turning and the grass kept growing.
Last time I saw him, he was struggling to draw breath. God was giving them to him one at a time with no promise of the next. He said to us
I can’t pray. Will you?
And we did. Just as he had prayed for us for all of those years, giving thanks and pleading grace. He looked so very satisfied, as though if we listened past the sound of tired breathing, we too would hear that all was as it should be.
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones and soul’s delivery.
In the midst of the pain, I’d like to encourage those of you who knew Tim to give thanks for the day God brought him to us. We celebrate his life, and rightly so, but it is not wrong to be sad as well. He has gone to glory but his passing feels so very wrong because it is. Everything within us aches and groans because this was not how it was meant to be.
You are right to cry. You are right to hurt. You are right to wish it wasn’t so.
The Lord has given us a precious brother and the Lord has taken him away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.
It’s not a sin to grieve.
But in the sorrow, hope burns bright. By God’s grace, in the pain of the parting we can still find cause to be glad.
Tim will finally know if Adam and Eve had belly buttons.
Although we’ll miss his company along the way, we are glad because he persevered to the end. It is impossible to grasp the glory and joy of heaven on this side of eternity. We live instead with the pain of the Now and the hope of the promise of the Not-Yet.
By faith we look forward to being reunited in the presence of our Saviour. By faith we look forward to being made whole in body, mind, and soul. By faith we are not overcome by the pain of this temporary parting, knowing that Tim has been granted his soul’s desire. He sees the one his soul loves face to face and takes his place among the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before and who cheer us on even now as we run.
Right in this moment it might feel like the pain will never fade, like the questions will never be answered, like the gaping hole that Tim left will never be filled.
One cannot do justice to someone like Tim, even in his fallen, earthbound state. Where would you even begin? With his dislike of bush-babies? With his love of all things green? With his incredible knack of turning absolutely any conversation gospel-ward?
With a walnut tree?
All that I can summon from a hundred laughter tinged memories and wonder filled stories is the simple statement:
The Lord gives and takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
God, in his good grace, brought us a brother back from the far country. Then, having restored the lost years, God took him to himself.
We love Tim. And it hurts. We will always love Tim and it will always hurt until we may at last follow to a place where all things will be made new, all tears will be wiped away, and we will finally see our precious Saviour face to face.
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And Death shall be no more.