Since the advent of the new years, a number of celebrity deaths have filled the news: Natalie Cole, Alan Rickman, David Bowie, Patty Duke, Merle Haggard, and just yesterday, Prince. I am not negating the importance of those deaths. I agree with a quote I found some years ago that was attributed to Theodore Roosevelt: "All death is a tragedy, for if it is not then life has become one."
However, last Tuesday evening, a fellow pastor in the denomination I serve passed away unexpectedly while working in his garden and his death has affected me more than all the celebrities that have passed away since New Year's Day.
Mt. Pleasant United Brethren Church (Chambersburg, Pennsylvania). In 2001, he became the church's senior pastor and I would meet him often at denominational events. We were never close friends, but only because we moved in different pastoral circles, but he was a man I liked and respected because of his numerous talents and gifts and we would always greet each other with a hand shake and a smile.
My impression of Chris was that of a talented administrator who had the guts and fortitude to serve a church of 300 members. Being seminary trained, he knew the Bible intimately and there was no doubt he also knew the Author. You can read Chris' obituary here and an affectionate tribute to him here. You will soon be aware this was a man who was not passive in the face of life, but a man who lived it deliberately with purpose. I'm also not surprised that Chris died in his garden as gardens play such an important role in Judaeo-Christianity as places where God meets with people.
As a Christ follower and a pastor, people believe I have all the answers. I don't. The 'why" of things I've never been able to fully grasp, only promises God put in His Word of His own free will that he would make all things right. Why an effective pastor with such impressive skills would be taken is beyond my comprehension. Chris was a young 51 and, to me, seemed to be in wonderful health. He was blessed with a great family and along with his wife was an entrepreneur running The Sweet Shop in Eagle's Mere, Pennsylvania on top of his pastoral responsibilities.
And in the midst of all that life, now we face the fact that there are family and friends and a congregation still mourning and grieving with questions that will remain unanswered this side of glory.
So we honor Chris' life and we cherish our memories as well as commit
our own lives to an understanding that as regards life on Earth, there is no promise of tomorrow.
But for we who follow Christ, we cling to a promise that stands in the
face of all the why questions we have: