Friday, January 1, 2016

Beautiful Mourning

The wife, children, and brother-in-law sang. The funeral visitors sang. Everyone but the man they came to honor sang, at least not on earth. But with all the joyful and exuberant celebration, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see him sit up in his coffin and sing, too. As a man who loved music and composed his own praise and worship songs, he would've loved the service.

We were at the funeral of a beloved coworker and friend who recently passed away after a two-year struggle with brain cancer. Pastor Calvin Egler came from a family of Gospel singers, and, oh, did they all sing him out that day. Despite their grief and the painful goodbye, their ability to sing spoke of their mighty faith.
Even Calvin’s mother-in-law sang. A mother-in-law who loved Calvin like her own son. After her grandson helped her to the stage, she began to speak: “I’ve had some good days. I’ve had some hills to climb….” And then the band kicked in, and she belted out an unforgettable gospel song with her sister.

Deitrich Bonhoeffer had the same stirring experience when he visited Black churches in Harlem during a stay in America while Hitler took power in Germany in the 1930s.  Eric Metaxas writes about the fervency of those churches in the biography, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. The German pastor found a refreshing orthodoxy and passion in the Harlem church he attended, despite the wounds of racism evident in our country. And that power may have prepared Bonhoeffer for the rising struggles he would encounter when he returned to Germany. He watched church members face their struggles with strength, hope, and grace. Bonhoeffer would do the same when he was eventually arrested back in Europe and hung by the Nazis.
At the funeral, as Calvin’s children and wife (who leads the Wheaton College Gospel Choir) and family members and friends sang, I wept. Sitting in the back, moved by the music, I fondly remembered this humble and faithful man who exemplified what it meant to be a Christian.
Calvin worked part-time at the publishing house where I work, but not in the role of Associate Publisher or VP. Despite his degree from prestigious Wheaton College, he pastored a church and worked a very humble job with our company to supplement his income.
He emptied our trash in the evenings.
But as he walked from office to office collecting wastebaskets as people started to clear out for the day, he acted on his true calling. He would stop and inquire about people. No one was invisible to Calvin. If he found someone late in the evening crying after a bad day (which he did find), he would put aside his task to counsel and pray with that person, remembering his call to care for people.
And we remember him.
Pastor Calvin was faithful with the task given to him. And as his funeral demonstrated to the packed church of many hundreds of people, he had lived the most valuable of lives, putting people in a place of importance because he knew their importance to God. As his beautiful, articulate children expressed, they grew up with a father who daily made them feel loved and the source of his pride.
Watching others face their trials with singing transforms us all. I know I was transformed. I want my own time here to be marked with equal trust. This quiet, faithful man was a role model for many. And that’s his legacy.
Rest in peace, Pastor Calvin. Well done.
I've had some good days
I've had some hills to climb
I've had some weary days
I've had some sleepless nights
But when I look around
And I think things over
All of my good days
Outweigh my bad days

So I won't complain

~ Marvin Winans