[Note: the following is an unspoken sermon, a sermon written but not preached, for my Grandfather's funeral. It was Grandpa who gave me the opportunity to preach my first sermon, and so it seems fitting that on the occasion of his repose in the Lord, I compose a sermon in his honor.]
Twice in the ministry of Elisha, prophet of Israel, these words are spoken: “My father, my father, the chariots and horsemen of Israel.” The first occasion is when Elisha doggedly follows Elijah across the Jordan and sees Elijah translated alive into heaven in the fiery chariot and horses. Elisha is given a double portion of the Spirit of Elijah and begins his ministry. The second time is when the evil king, Jehoash (or Joash) of Israel goes to Elisha when Elisha is dying. Seeing Elisha dying, Joash cries out, “My father, my father, the chariots and horsemen of Israel.” Whatever we may say of these two occasions and the meaning of these words, we can at least say that both times they are uttered, the men who utter them are recognizing the end of a ministry, the gathering to his fathers of a man of God.
Everett Daniel Thompson was, and still is, a servant of God. He labored and struggled in faith before God. Now God has called him to depart this mortal life. God has declared his earthly labors ended. Everett, my grandfather, is now taking his rest.
My memories of Grandpa have about them one particular inaccuracy. No matter how old I, myself, am in my recollections of Grandpa, he always appears to be the same. Tall, calm, patient, with a full head of snow white hair. You understand of course that he did not always have these grey hairs. Nonetheless, from his many labors, from his deep and constant faith in Christ, he gathered wisdom. And that wisdom shone forth in his grey hair. In my mind, if anyone ever embodied the truth of what it means to be a Christian patriarch, it is Grandpa. He is our father, our grandfather, our great-grandfather—and in Christ, he is ever our patriarch.
Although Grandpa made his living in other ways than the Christian ministry, especially later in life, in my mind he will always be a preacher. I sat at Grandpa’s feet in the worship services I attended at the churches he ministered with, listening to his sermons and Sunday School lessons. He let me hide away in his library, where I could read and study and think. Around him I always felt peaceful, and felt the presence of joy.
But Grandpa also knew what it was to suffer in Christ. He knew the straits of poverty. He knew the pain of ill health, of physical pain. He knew what it was to bury a child, a son. He knew what it was to bury his wife, his helpmeet, his beloved. I am not old enough to know whether Grandpa developed from his suffering the patience for which he was known, or whether his suffering simply deepened and enriched his patience. But Grandpa embodied an enriching quiet and calm. He had the gift of a peaceful and patient spirit.
But if Grandpa knew what it was to suffer in Christ, he did so because he knew the Gospel. He knew whom he had believed, he knew the hope on which he could stand. Grandpa knew that Christ had trampled down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowed life. Two things about that stand out in my mind. First, it was Grandpa who baptized me into Christ. I grew up in a Christian home, and cannot ever recall a conscious moment in which I did not simply accept that God is real, his Son Jesus Christ lived and died for us and rose again, and has given us the Holy Spirit to seal us for eternity. And when it came time for me to be baptized, it was Grandpa who baptized me. He brought me into the entryway of the Kingdom, he set my feet on the Way.
The second thing that stands out in my mind about Grandpa, not only was he there as I entered into Christ, he was there helping Grandma as she reposed in the Lord. When I came down for Grandma’s funeral about a year and a half ago, I came to the church where the funeral was to take place, and went to the room where the family was gathered. I headed straight for Grandpa to pay him my respects and express my condolences. He greeted me and one of the first things he said to me was to relate some of Grandma’s final moments. He told me that Grandma had expressed some fear as she was dying. He then told me how he had reminded her of the Gospel and comforted her with the truth of Christ’s Resurrection. He said when he saw her the next day, she was peaceful.
I wasn’t able to speak much more with Grandpa then, but that story was an amazing gift with which blessed me. And it is in my mind a summation of Grandpa’s ministry, his labors here in this life as a servant of God. He was a preacher of the Gospel. He helped people like me, his grandson, come in to the Kingdom. And he helped people like my Grandma, his beloved wife, continue in the final journey into the fullness of the Kingdom.
As his grandson, it is natural for me to feel an assurance of Grandpa’s eternal destiny. I am not preaching Grandpa into heaven, as it were. Or if I am, it solely from the basis of Christ’s gracious work in his life in response to his faith. Grandpa gave me, gave all of us, the witness of a life lived from faith in Christ, in joy and sorrow, in trial and in peace. He revealed the faith of Christ lived each day in prayer and patience. He spoke of the promise of Christ, and how we can have the hope of the Resurrection in Christ. The night of death will, he might well say to us today, give way to the dawn of eternal life as Christ raises us bodily from the grave. He knew his hope was in Christ, and in Christ alone. So, we too have that same hope for him. This was Grandpa’s life, the way he lived. It was his lifelong faithful service.
That service, Grandpa’s earthly work, is now ended for us. Our patriarch is at rest. He has departed to be with the Lord he served.
This, of course, is not the end of the story. We do not simply pause to remember Grandpa, to seek God’s mercy, and soon to lay his body in the ground. Grandpa’s body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has sealed this body. This same body which lies here will rise again. This is the hope Grandpa believed, and believes still.
Earlier I referenced two passages from 2 Kings, on the ministry of Elisha. I called to mind the cry that was given, first by Elisha himself, then by King Joash, that cry recognizing the ending of the ministry of God’s servant. But there is an interesting postlude to the story in 2 Kings 13. Elisha’s body had been laid to rest, and some time later, a dead man was needing burial, and in haste his body was thrown into Elisha’s grave. Once the dead man’s body touched the bones of Elisha, the man came to life again. How could this be? Because the same Holy Spirit that empowered Elisha’s ministry, the double portion of Elijah which he was given, had dwelt in Elisha as he dwells in us: body and soul. The Holy Spirit did not depart from Elisha’s bones. The Holy Spirit, the giver of life, has not departed from Grandpa’s body, which is his temple. And Spirit will call to spirit in the Resurrection and Grandpa will rise again, as this very same body, though transfigured, will be rejoined with the soul that has until recently indwelt it.
This is the promise Grandpa believed, the hope of the Resurrection. It is our promise too on this day. We not only cry out to our patriarch, “My father, my father, the chariots and horsemen of Israel.” But we also cry out, “Rest in hope, servant of God.”
So, Everett, take your rest. Take your rest, man of God. As you endured patiently your labors in this life, so patiently await your redemption, your resurrection to eternal life. You placed your faith in Christ in this life, and held loyally to him. The light of the glory of his countenance now shines on you. Take your rest, Grandpa. Take your rest. The morning soon awaits.