By Joshua Penduck
This morning I sat beside my Grandad’s bed. He was there, but he wasn’t. The last few days had been ones of immense suffering for him. He wouldn’t breathe for nearly a minute, but once the breathing started it was soon followed by a thirty seconds of intense trauma and anxiety. This would happen over and over again. You could put a watch by it. After spending much of the day with him, my father and I went home to sleep, leaving my mother and auntie to sit by his side for the rest of the evening and morning. I expected him to last the night. He didn’t.
He was there, but he wasn’t there.
He was there in that his physical body was before me. I held his hand. I kissed his forehead. I stroked his cheek.
But he wasn’t there. His body no longer had the life that had pulsed through his veins just a little while earlier. His mouth was silent. His lungs were still. It’s a strange feeling: the face of that sweetest smile that brought me joy for so many years no longer reflected the reality of the person.
Yet this I know: that though he was there but not there, his absence is not because he has vanished. Though physically there was no life in his body, he is not of a candle extinguished, a past event who exists only in the memories of those who loved him (themselves and their memories one day to be extinguished).
He is not there, because he has gone to be with the Lord. He has gone to be with Jesus. Not just a memory. Not just the ‘essence’ of him (whatever that means). But my Grandad in all that he was and is. And he lives forever in the glory of God.
Grandad, Fredrick Weaver, was a Pastor, a minister of the Gospel. He was a second generation Pentecostal. He was filled to the brim with the Holy Spirit. Though his earthly body was wasting away, he was inwardly ever being renewed by the Spirit of Christ within him. Jesus was his life, his reason for getting up in the morning, his early contemplation and his restful dreaming.
He was a preacher, who would exposit the Scriptures whether standing in the pulpit or sitting at the dinner table, in season and out of season. His sermons were Wagnerian compositions of great complexity but profound simplicity, Biblical theologies in miniature, drawing on the great expanses of Scriptural teachings. He would develop various themes within our hearing, tying them together through a great masterful theme.
He was a Pastor, who would tend to the flock entrusted to him such that they could know the fulness of life in Christ Jesus. Many people still look back with fondness to his ministry, decades after he had moved on from his church. He could at times be tough in his love (it was Grandma who was the ‘good cop’ in his pastoral ministry), but it was always for the sake of the new family which he deeply cared for. In a time of deep racism in British society, he happily presided over a multiracial church – a living symbol of the Reconciliation the Gospel brings in people’s lives.
He was a man of prayer who would lift up to God the needs of the world, the Church, and those whom he knew and loved. He had complete trust and faith in his Lord. When he lay hands on you or anointed you with oil, he meant it. This was no pious platitude with the doubtful hope that maybe God could do something: his was the God who worked miracles and works miracles. The same God who parted the Red Sea, who sent fire onto Elijah’s offering, who shut the mouths of the lions to save Daniel, who healed in Jesus the blind, the lepers, and the lame, who raised Jesus from the dead so as to sit at his right hand, who sent his Spirit on the Apostles at Pentecost, was the same God who is active now. The Holy Spirit was still moving, still changing lives, still pouring out his gifts today as in Apostolic times. Prayer meant something. I know: he prayed for me.
Though he never went to university, he was a scholar, whose knowledge of the Scriptures was second to none. Even now I will still find some of his jottings in the many books I received from him (often written on toilet paper!). He was endlessly exploring the strange new world of the Bible, endlessly learning new things about it, endlessly talking about his ideas and thoughts. He was creative in his approach to Scripture – often interested in the more mystical sides of the Bible (the strange stories at the beginning of Genesis, the prophetic visions of heaven and the future, the symbolic mesh of Revelation), but always firmly rooted in the Lord who had saved him.
He was my Grandad. I’ll always treasure those seemingly inconsequential memories of him, the little scraps of life which come to mean so much when you have lost someone: him working away in the garden on a glorious summer’s day (what a gardener he was! He could make the plainest field into a little paradise!); of the Saturday mornings in which I would visit, and he would come to bring me hot chocolate (with cream on top!) whilst I was watching the TV Channel ‘Trouble’, before saying, in his thick Gloucestershire accent and with a twinkle in his eye, ‘Hello trouble!’; playing with my toys in church with him sitting next to me and pretending that his lap was a mountain; the fish he would cook for us on Thursday night (putting a little pea on the battered fish so that it would look like an eye); his playing the piano on a Monday evening prayer meeting, cascading chords up and down the piano as if he were a concert pianist; his bickering with Grandma in the car about some small thing, or when she was straggling behind whilst going shopping; the night Grandma died, and his small but powerful words when he heard the news, ‘But I was so looking forward to seeing her’; his endless ‘umms’ and ‘errs’ in his sentences (a trait I’ve inherited from him); his underlining the printed words of a birthday card, especially phrases like ‘To a wonderful Grandson’. I could go on and on – these little fragments do not seem enough.
These are the things that now seem more important, more significant, right now. It’s not the big meals, it’s not the exciting events, it’s not the obvious things. It’s these little things that are to be treasured and valued, the things that I long for, the things that I miss.
Yet as I write this (with tears streaming down my face and a box of tissues being steadily depleted), I know that this is not the end. The story isn’t finished – in fact it’s only just begun.
As we sat and stood around the bed in the early hours of this morning, we could sing songs of praise, ‘There’s going to be a meeting in the air’; we could pray prayers of thanksgiving for the wondrous gift of my Grandad’s life; we could marvel at the little but astonishing ways in which God has provided over the last few days. We could do this because we know that though Grandad was there, he wasn’t there – he was transported to glory, to rapture, to be with the Lord.
And because of this, though I am mourning and weeping for his loss, though I long for the days long past, though I miss that sweetest of smiles, I know that I shall see him again in the sweet by and by. Through the wondrous grace of God revealed and given to us in Jesus Christ, we shall meet again, maybe sooner, maybe later, but we will meet on that beautiful shore.
- There’s a land that is fairer than day,
And by faith we can see it afar;
For the Father waits over the way
To prepare us a dwelling place there.
In the sweet by and by,
We shall meet on that beautiful shore;
In the sweet by and by,
We shall meet on that beautiful shore.
- We shall sing on that beautiful shore
The melodious songs of the blessed;
And our spirits shall sorrow no more,
Not a sigh for the blessing of rest.
- To our bountiful Father above,
We will offer our tribute of praise
For the glorious gift of His love
And the blessings that hallow our days.