*Memorial service for Arthur (“Art” “Peewee”) Taylor, was conducted at First Christian Church of Hampton VA, on Tuesday, 14 May, prior to our weekly “Welcome Table” meal. Art was one of our regulars, a part of the community that gathers for a meal… and finds friendship across all the lines. We cherished him and we miss him. A gentle spirit; always with a smile. – Vinson
First Letter of John 4:7-16 (New Revised Standard Version)
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.
II Corinthians 5:14-17 (New Revised Standard Version)
For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view,[c]we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
Gospel of John 14:1-3 (New Revised Standard Version)
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.
We have no choice but acknowledge that death is present in life. It leaves us confused at best or hurt at worst. An absence is now keenly felt on Tuesday evenings at our Welcome Table, where Art was among those who called him friend.
Art had a fall. A number of them. Somewhere along the way there was an intercranial bleed. It wasn’t discovered until he collapsed in a doctor’s office. Attempts to save him would eventually prove fruitless. Such medical facts we may well protest with the question: “Why?” I know I have at times reflected back on the many times I was the chaplain in an Emergency Room and ICUs where tragedy was a common occurrence. So often I was asked “Why?” Why did this happen?
WHY I BRING THIS UP
It’s a question among the faithful as old as the patriarch’s in the Book of Genesis. It’s as old as when King Josiah, one of the really few “good” kings to rule Israel, died suddenly. Everyone went looking for a satisfactory answer. None were to be found. It doesn’t make sense when a “good” man dies, although there is, to quote Ecclesiastes, a “season for everything.”
So, when we hurt and ask why, we’re actually asking a question of justice. We cannot see why a particular person had merited death, regardless of age. Circumstances only catch us more off guard. It doesn’t seem right and we protest death.
I have to think that even were we to be assured that we had the right logical and scriptural answer to “Why did this happen?” – we would still be left wanting. God knows this too. Nothing makes what we view as an untimely death, acceptable in our hearts and minds. That is the nature of grief. That is normal for people. It is often wrestled with in the pages of the Bible. Some more quickly than others will work through the spiritual wrestling and prayer that grants peace. Yet, the perplexing loss of a friend remains an individual journey for each of us for which we cannot be hard upon ourselves.
The hands of the clock have moved. We stand at a new place in time, one not of our choosing. We may find a kinship in the words of the ancient Israelites. They found themselves living in exile, having been carried off by the Babylonians, following the conquest of Israel. In Psalm 137, they ask the most essential question of now: “How can we sing a new song in this land?”
That, my friends, is the crux of any death that touches our spirits. How do we go forward, exiled from a future that no longer exists?
We are advised in God’s word that “None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself” [Romans 14:7]. I have thought about hospital visits at an earlier time, just as much as sitting down to dinner with Art and Nancy and friends scattered across the tables. I found myself with a man whose countenance was peaceful, smiling, interested in others, considerate, humble. I have wondered what shaped his life’s outlook. Was it was how he was raised. Did he drew lessons from his time serving in the Army? Was he befriended and mentored amid the shipbuilding environment that he made his career? Did he find something among friends in his later years/ Was it being around Nancy? Did the faith in Christ long woven in him shape him this way? I suspect it is all of those things and much more.
What we do know is that each person is unique in God’s creation.
What we do know that each person who accepts Jesus Christ is gifted by the Spirit. That giftedness is a way of being and serving in the world in relationship with others. It is a way of remembering what drew the disciples of John to Jesus wasn’t his words. They had not heard them. It was his deeds. We all notice WHAT people do. We notice HOW they treat others. We notice the WAY they are present in life. Your presence here celebrates that truth about Art, and about all people.
What we do know is that each person is a part of our journey. Some leave us with a voice, a perspective, or sometimes something just as simple as a gentle smile like the photo on the bulletin. They become an image, an icon, in our hears and minds. They point to the One who gives us breath. Maybe that image helps us in the critical moment when we are scattered in thinking. Or, when we are sad or needing to be grounded amid anxiety. I would submit that Art and others whose spirits are woven into the better part of our lives, offer us such. Insight. Behavior. Perspective. A gift of kind or presence. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be here. Know it or not, we integrate that which others bring into our own way of being in life. This is even more true when we walk in fellowship with one another and Christ.
What we do know how many friends we’ve lost over the years. Some much older. Some much younger. Yet each is a teacher in some way to us. It’s what has made us better persons in this world. It’s the images or voices of counsel that come to mind when we need to go in a better direction. We hear the Apostle John’s words encouraging us to “love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” They remind us of the greatness of that which seems the smallest thing of all when we offer it: the kindness of loving one another. John, who wrote those words, was the last of the Apostles to die. In his final years he was crippled by a stroke. Unable to walk, he was carried on a chair into church. Unable to easily speak, he still spoke from his heart saying over and over: “Little children, love one another.” Whether one is of many or few words, that’s how we speak Life to one another.
The only question left to us is: What of who Art was among us, will we choose to carry forward in us? What is it that we saw in Art that we want to remind ourselves to do likewise? What in Art we would want in us – to witness to our Creating God and Redeeming Christ?
I once knew a young man who died way too young. Along the way had tattooed upon his arm the phrase “Life goes on.” No one knew why he chose those life-affirming words as his personal motto. Yet, I suggest they answer our question, as much as the Psalmist. As the Psalmist sat by the waters of Babylon, he asked: “How shall we sing a new song in this foreign land, this new experience?” It to asks of ourselves, if we would honor Art…
How can we be an encouragement to the next person…
How can we laugh deeply when the opportunity arises…
How can we to embrace life in all of its seasons.
Until such the day we are caught up in heaven and meet again, may the grace of our Lord hold Art in eternity and us in hope.