Notes from the final chord wafted through the sanctuary of First Baptist Church, of Snellville, Georgia. Tommy Rutledge lifted his fingers from the keyboard of the grand piano, and Melissa Thompson climbed the steps to the podium to welcome those who had gathered for the memorial service. “Missy” is the oldest child of Floyd Cooper who had passed following a struggle with COVID.
Tommy had played several beautiful spiritual songs, then finished the pre-service music with Floyd Cramer’s “Last Date,” at the request of the family, because it was a favorite of Floyd Cooper’s and his family. Other than myself, Tommy was the only participant in the service who was not a blood relative of the deceased...I being an in-law by marriage or perhaps an outlaw. Everyone else who spoke was either a sibling, child, or grandchild. There were 15 names on the program, including the pianist and me - the outlaw.
Floyd (Cooper, not Cramer) was married to my wife’s sister, Johnsie, for 52 years. After cancer took Johnsie more than four years ago, Floyd moved back to his home state of Florida and married Sue, a childhood friend.
During the service Tommy played that beautiful gospel standard, “How Great Thou Art,” by Stuart Hine. No singing, though. When it was my turn to speak, I referred to the third and fourth stanzas mentioning that Jesus bled and died, on the cross, gladly bearing our burden, to take away our sin; and because he made that sacrifice, joy will fill my heart, when he returns, and I will proclaim, “my God, how great Thou art!”
A few minutes later, after Floyd Cooper Jr. had pronounced the benediction, Tommy began to play the Gaither classic, “Because He Lives.” Although we weren’t invited to sing, I did. “God sent His Son...Jesus...He lived and died to buy my pardon, an empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives. Because He lives I can face tomorrow...”
Easter Sunday has just passed, but we need to celebrate that empty grave every day. Jesus died for our sins. He was buried to carry them away. Then He was resurrected from the dead to bring victory over all that would enslave us. What a wonderful truth: Jesus defeated death!
After we returned from the memorial in Georgia, I met a young man whose teenage friend had recently lost his life. The two young men had been friends for years and were in a church youth group together. As I assured the young man of my prayers for him, he shared with me that his friend was, without a doubt, a true believer and was in a better place.
Although that does not take away the pain of separation, it is our eternal hope and our promise of eternity...because Christ lives, because of the Resurrection.
How did you celebrate Easter? Sammie and I celebrated with our son and his family and our youngest daughter at church in Mt. Juliet. When I was a child, we did Easter baskets and “stuff,” but the true meaning of Resurrection Sunday came first. Even when we had Easter egg hunts on Sunday afternoon, we were reminded that spring represents rebirth, and there is new life in those eggs (at least some of them, back in the day). I hope you celebrated the empty tomb above everything else.
None of us knows the day or the hour He will come for us, but that date and time will be our last day on earth. My hope for that last date is the assurance that He Lives, and there will be an eternal tomorrow.
The angel said, “He is not here for He is risen!”
Steve Playl, columnist, college instructor, retired pastor, and chaplain, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org