(For context, the following was written on Tuesday, March 28, 2016).
As the sun rises at the start of a new and untainted day I find myself sitting in the old chair on the front porch, facing the East and a new day’s sun. No cloud obscures that warming orb, and memories come floating up like delicate and tender butterflies, newly freed from their caterpillar imprisonment.
It was only yesterday that we laid to rest a precious Saint, a man of God and a true and dear husband, father and friend. On Monday, the day following Resurrection Sunday we gathered, we stood silently and alone together, encapsulated in our own memories and thoughts on a hillside surrounded by the sublime beauty that is Appalachia in Southwest Virginia.
Like so many before us, we could not have imagined or considered that this day would arrive; not, at least so soon. We are conditioned to believe that death is reserved for the elderly or the very weak: We believe death to be the mysterious domain of the ancient and the feeble and the diminished among us. Death is somehow more palatable when it calls at 95 or 80 or even 75 years of life, or before personality and disposition and ‘person-hood’ develop.
We are not conditioned, we are ill-prepared to accept the departure of the strong and the healthy and the animated among us; we are not ready to say farewell to our spouses or our fathers or our mothers or our dearest and most cherished friends in the midst of their most productive and significant years. Death does not knock at the door, it does not ring a bell of inquiry but is an unwelcome intruder that advances, unbidden and unwanted into our homes and snatches away our friends without reason or permission or respect.
And we despise this inescapable part of life. We know it will come, eventually. Thousands of generations of humans, people, families have taught us the inevitability of death: If we are born, we will die: But not so soon, not this soon.
Our lives are encircled by inviolable boundaries. We may desire to lift ourselves, to rise into the stratosphere, to dance among clouds and to skip from sun ray to mountaintop by the sheer effort of will, but gravitational law forbids such frolic. We may lean towards tomorrow, seek a porthole into the future, we may consult the prophet and peer intently into the slightest crack in time’s forward door, but we soon discover as have all those who have gone before us, there is no gift of reliably forecasting the future.
And so, when our friend weakened and withered and when the moment arrived when we knew that barring a miracle of God he would not recover, we pressed ourselves against every line and verse and paragraph of hope that God’s word might provide us, might enable us to see and to witness and to experience a resurrection from the unavoidable.
But the resurrection we celebrated on Sunday had not been made material on the previous Thursday, the day that will forever mark the conclusion of our friend’s earthly lifespan.
We stood beside him on that Maundy Thursday morning. We waited for a miracle. We ached to witness a wonder. We talked to our Friend, encouraging Him to raise our friend. And He did not.
Something we cannot see, someplace we cannot yet go, Someone we cannot yet behold encompassed and captivated and completed our friend. He had gone beyond; beyond what we know, what we understand, beyond where we may walk. As our friend had encouraged others when their friends departed, so we encourage and are encouraged as our friend departs.
Tears are a gift from heaven. They are provided to facilitate the out-pour without which we would be overwhelmed, inundated, drowned in our sorrows and sunk in our aching. And with our gift torn open, exposed and employed we weep, because we have been given the capacity to pour out, as our heavenly Friend was poured out for us. We cry, in the most inopportune moments and in the least appropriate places. Some memory loosens and breaks away from the walls or our life-flow and enters into the bloodstream of our love and we weep; hot, salty tears flow from a well, made full by love for our friend.
Soul-pain is afforded by a loving Father. It is necessary to validate our love and to authenticate our affection. If our hearts did not ache, if our very frames did not protest the passing of our friends, what evidence would we provide of our love and affection and devotion to those who pass from among us to among “them?”
And with the tears and with the pain there is promise of rejoicing yet to come. A perfect Father promises to wipe away every tear from our eyes. He informs us of a place where “there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
Our friend has passed through the “valley of the shadow of death.” In his passing, he feared no evil, because He was with him. The promise made and delivered to countless millions of souls who were carried through The Great Transition before him, has now been made real to our friend. And he has now crossed over, he has entered in; he has found his reward.
Our Great Friend assured us, so our hearts need not be troubled; we believe in God and we believe also in Jesus. In His Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, He would have told us. He has gone to prepare a place for us, and if He has gone to prepare a place for us, He will return and receive us to Himself, that where He is, there we may be also.
Our weeping must endure for a night, but joy surely comes in the morning. A joy that is unspeakable and full of glory awaits those who have suffered the dark hours of weeping and who have agonized in the embrace of the stinging, callous arms of sorrow.
Jesus promised; the one Who cannot lie nor distort nor deceive has pledged and now comforts us, “to him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.”
Jeff Williams, our dear friend has fought a good fight, he has finished his course, he has kept the faith. He has overcome the world and has entered into His rest. The gift of eternal life given to a young and zealous man has now been fully received and experienced by a mature, learned and still-zealous man. We will no more hear his gifted voice lift the splendorous melodies of God’s astonishing symphony of grace. His laughter will no longer ring loud and uproarious in our gatherings. Another world holds our friend, captivates him in its glories, and provides to you and me motivation to follow him as he followed his Christ and now worships and triumphs before his King.
Greg, I miss you and thank you for your words – always.