It hits you like a punch in the stomach. Your breath is sucked away and you’re not sure you heard correctly. But you did. You know with a terrible dawning certainty that he’s not coming back, that they couldn’t revive him, that he’ll never walk on this earth again. He’s gone. It’s awful, a parent’s worst nightmare come true, a devastating blow that completely changes the complexion of your life in an instant.
And yet. We do not sorrow as those who have no hope. We have hope. Chad had hope and faith in his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and because he did, because God granted him repentance, we will see him again. He will see his parents, hug his brother, walk with his friends as we all worship Christ for eternity.
His parents. We’re glad we had him for 17 years, they say. We’re glad it wasn’t someone who was unconverted. We know we’ll see our son again. This life is just a vapor, a short time. God didn’t want him to be found under that water. We’re glad it was him and not one of the unconverted teenagers. The faith and trust implicit in those statements can only come as a result of God’s grace. We trust him, they say, we trust him. God is good and we praise him for this even as we weep for our son.
Thoughts and images from prayer meeting tonight . . .
Jeff rising to pray, his big hands on the pew in front of him, his voice strong and breaking all at the same time, praising God for his goodness, begging God to save the unconverted, glorifying God because Chad is with him now . . . Pastor Sam giving counsel and advice, his voice choked with emotion, his every word reminding you that he and his family have been through this fire before and God protected them from the flames. It still hurt, tremendously so, and it always will, but God is faithful. You can see it in the set of his jaw and his piercing gaze, hear it in his thick, booming voice. God is good. Trust him, lean on him, pour out your love on the Catillers, this is how to do it . . . singing In Christ Alone with everyone praising God and declaring their trust in him, that he alone is our hope and salvation, tears running down our faces, but singing with conviction, with praise, with glory to our God on high . . . hearing Jeff’s voice behind me, singing the words, hearing him confess his hope in God, his trust, his belief, seeing him reach over and take his wife’s hand as we reached the end of What E’er my God Ordains Is Right . . . remembering that same song from Seth’s funeral . . . Joan standing and clutching a Bible, saying that life is a vapor and she’ll see her son again soon, and then pleading with the unconverted young people to come to him, to believe on Christ because she wants them to be in eternity and see her son again too . . . prayer after prayer after prayer of confession, hope, praise, trust, pleading with God . . . “My son had two bad hearts, now he doesn’t have any bad hearts” . . . the thought of Chad wanting us to join him in praising God, being completely satisfied in glory . . . the kids, the high schoolers who were there. Sixteen of them left and only fifteen came back. Seeing them standing at the back of the sanctuary, looking as scared and lonely as teenagers ever can, their parents seeing their children and knowing there’s only one place they want to be and that’s with their arms wrapped around their kids, hugging them, holding them, crying with them . . . Elizabeth Byrne holding on to Stefan and Michelle, the Gauleys walking back to find Austin, the Goodwins both encircling Ben, tears on their faces, Dave Malone looking for Calvin, Michelle Byrne holding on tightly to everyone who hugged her, Jeff Catiller wading into the midst of them and hugging them, his big arms wrapped around them . . . tears and exhaustion and grief written all over the kids faces . . . Justin and Tammy hugging people, letting some of their responsibility drain away, glad they’re back safely . . . Ben Waldron holding onto his dad . . . Ben and Nate and Pastor Sam hugging together, remembering . . . Josh and Caleb Morgan, waiting for their mom, then Melanie huggint them both at once . . . what all the kids must be thinking and remembering and trying to change . . . not wanting to leave, but to stay there with God’s people, talking and hugging and just absorbing the atmosphere of grace . . . how full the sanctuary was . . . Caleb Fendrich crying as he prayed for his buddy Chris . . . the outpouring of love the Catillers have already received and will continue to feel over the next days and weeks because of the bond of the body of Christ, something the world can never know, something that gives us hope.
We’ll miss Chad, even those of us who didn’t know him well. We’ll grieve with the Catillers and then heal with them. We’ll grow closer to our heavenly Father, as individuals and as a church. We’ll remember that God causes all things for our good and his glory, even the seeming tragedies. And we’ll look forward to seeing Chad again someday, watching him be reunited with his family for all eternity. What a glorious God we serve. In Christ Alone, indeed.