Gordon Cosby, who was minister of a church in Washington DC called Church of the Savior, died this spring, just before Easter. A few days ago, I started watching a DVD of Gordon's memorial service. One story, told by Killian Noe, stuck with me: When Gordon was an army chaplain in World War II, he saw many die. One day he found himself staring down at the dead body of his best friend, Tom. Gordon recounted, "At first I was overcome with despair and the senseless waste of my friend's life. Suddenly something exhilarating broke into that darkness and the atmosphere around us seemed charged with life. I felt excitement and sensed limitlessness. I knew I had touched that eternal realm of divine love into which my friend had fully entered, and in that moment I envied him."
The first time I heard a Gordon Cosby sermon, his voice reminded me a little of my grandfather's. Like Gordon, Grandfather grew up in the south. Grandfather's faith, too, was shaped by the war. Grandfather never seemed to worry or carry anxiety, but in my experience lived in a constant state of gratitude, joy, and trust. He was the most generous person I've ever met. He reveled in the good things in life, singing and dancing and playing tennis and walking until near the end. He had no fear of death, no desire to prolong his life past when it was time to go.
After a few months of sickness and a general slowing down, last week it became clear to us that Grandfather was nearing his end. He passed in and out of consciousness and after Tuesday evening, he could not eat. His heart and kidneys were failing and he was in some pain.
This morning I woke up at 9:30am. I felt that I needed to pray for Grandfather to go and be with God. Around 10 am I sat down and prayed for several minutes. Then I went on to church with John. I was giving the children's sermon, based on "rejoicing in the Lord." "Even when sad things happen to us," I told the kids, "there are always good things from God, reasons to rejoice." We practiced naming good gifts. I almost said, "for example, my grandfather is very sick right now, and it is sad. but I am so joyful and thankful for his life, and that he will soon get to be with God." I decided against it, thinking maybe it was too heavy for a 3-minute children's moment. When I returned to my seat, I checked my phone. I had one voice mail. I was pretty sure I knew what it was. I left the service to listen to the message, which was from my dad. Grandfather had died just before 11:00am. I returned to the service feeling a fullness--it was fitting that he should go right at the time of day he had always gone to worship the Lord on Sundays.
The church service went on and at the end, we shared communion together. Honestly, communion is this weird thing that I've never really understood, where Christians eat bread and drink wine and somehow mystically share in the body and blood of Jesus, which he gave up for us to have life. It is also a symbol of unity, because as we eat and drink we are united in the body of Christ with all believers past and present and future. Today as I took my bread and wine I knew I was sharing in the love of God with Grandfather, Grandma, and so many others who have gone before. We were all celebrating together, in that realm of divine love. It moved me to tears, and people came to comfort me. But they were tears of joy.