George loved to walk. He was among the first people I met when we moved to Tampa. He and a couple other guys would walk around Davis Islands on Saturday morning and stop at a little restaurant for a big breakfast…which may have defeated the physical purpose for the walk but encouraged great conversation! For George, walking was both a form of exercise and a way of making new discoveries along the way. He and his wife walked together for 45 years along the hiking trails in the North Carolina mountains, on trips around the world, and back home on Bayshore Blvd that snakes its way along the Hillsborough Bay.
During the 22 years that I was his pastor, I always knew I could trust his integrity, wisdom and faithful commitment to the mission of the church. One morning a few weeks ago he finished preparing his lesson for the adult Sunday School class he helped lead, left his bible open with his check for the church and went for a walk.
George was walking along the Bayshore when a speeding, drunk driver veered off the road, smashed into the balustrade, and hit George head on. He was throw into the bay and died at the scene. The newspaper headline read, Tampa Man Killed in Bayshore Crash, Remembered as Kind, Faithful.
A Little Farther On
Sometimes when George and his wife were walking together, George would take off at a more energetic pace, leaving her behind. In the memorial service, Hyde Park’s current pastor, Magrey deVega, shared the story of a time this happened while they were in England. His wife sent their children a picture with the caption, “We’re out for a walk. Do you see that tiny dot in the middle of the picture? That’s your dad ahead of me.”
Magrey concluded the sermon with these powerful words:
It feels like George has now concluded his walk. But in a very real way, he’s just further ahead now than the rest of us. You might say he’s kind of a tiny dot in our horizon. But he has left for us a trail to follow that he has blazed. A trail that points us to the faithfulness of a very real God, the saving love of Jesus Christ, and is illuminated by his own enduring legacy of love that will live on, in us, as we continue our own walk, one step at a time.
He’s Risen and Out Ahead of Us
That picture of George walked back into my imagination as I returned to Mark’s gospel and listened to the first words spoken at the empty tomb.
“Don’t be alarmed! You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised. He isn’t here. Look, here’s the place where they laid him. Go, tell his disciples, especially Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.” (Mark 16:6-7)
With that, Mark ends his gospel describing the women. “Overcome with terror and dread, they fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”
It seems like a shabby way to end the gospel. Others tried to improve it by tacking on alternative endings. (Mark 16:9-20) But I’ve come to appreciate it because we all know how those women felt.
Particularly this year as we, like the women, come to the empty tomb alone, without crowded congregations, triumphant choirs, and the scent of lilies in the sanctuary. Amid all the other emotions that surround the COVID-19 crisis, we feel some measure of “terror and dread” as we “shelter in place,” see people dying alone on a ventilator in ICU, or gaze into an unknown and unpredictable future.
We need to hear the angel say, “He is going ahead of you.” The One who goes with us through the dreadful darkness of Good Friday and the stoney silence of Holy Saturday has been raised and is going ahead of us into whatever lies ahead. We sing it in Charles Wesley’s great resurrection hymn with its recurring and explosive “Alleluia!”
Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted head, Alleluia!
Made like him like him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!
I rejoice today that like George, the Risen Christ is out there on the horizon ahead of us. But “he has left for us a trail to follow.” That’s Jesus on the horizon out there ahead of us. Christ is risen, indeed!
Grace and peace,