Hope and Loss

On December 7, my father, Robert Wheeler, passed into the life everlasting at the age of 100 years and 10 months. My siblings and I had lived well past the mid point of our natural life expectancies with the good humor, quiet faith, dogged optimism and healthy appetite of our father as a constant in our lives. He was a living symbol of our shared genetic, cultural and faith heritage. He was always there – at every graduation, wedding, family holiday celebration and birthday party. As a deacon, a tither, and a Sunday School pupil and teacher, he set the standard for our faith walk.
Even as child I was, like my mother, a night owl. Dad retired for the night early because of his work schedule. But I would see him each evening through the bedroom door, as it stood slightly ajar, reading his Bible as the last act of his day.
Our church, the Beechmont Baptist Church of Louisville, KY, like all churches had its share of upsets and comings and goings. But Dad said that the only way he would ever leave the church was “carried out, feet first.” At his memorial, my sister Lou concluded her remarks by saying, “Well, Dad, we’re carrying you out today!”
A former seminary student of mine and fellow baby boomer said to me, “You are not finally a man until your father dies.” I suppose I shall see. But I do know that we are modeling manhood or womanhood for our own children, at whatever stage in life they are, whether we are conscious and intentional about it or not.
I am not alone in our church family in the experience of loss this past year. Sonn Souv Im, the mother of our beloved Cambodian pastor Rev. Peter Im, passed away just a few days before my father, scant days before her 99th birthday. We celebrated the lives and mourned the loss of beloved elders and longtime FBC members Lee Squier, Marguerite and Del Ayers, Irene Hanschar, Ray Price, Nate Olson, and Shirlene Hartup, and wept with the family of Cheryl Hopkins, taken from this life in the mid years of her life trajectory, with children still at home. In this broken world, “it is appointed for mortals to die once, and then the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
But this is not the whole story. The Christian narrative tells us that Christ, God’s Anointed One, lived and died and rose again “the first fruits of those who have died.” Dare to hitch your destiny in faith to him.
For behold I tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed…
— 1 Corinthians 15:51–52
Every time we hear the Christmas story, of the child born to an internally displaced refugee in occupied Palestine, laid in an animal’s feed trough for want of a proper crib, and yet destined to be the pivot point of history; every time that we embark upon a new year, anno domini; we acknowledge the radical hope pressing in on us from the future, God’s future. For the One who is our origin is also our destiny. Dare to believe this, and dare to live – and when your time comes – to die accordingly.
—Dr. David L. Wheeler