Today my mum called me to let me know a wonderful old man had died. He was one of the very best men I have known. In my memory he has always been old, the retired vicar slowly climbing the narrow wooden stairs into the pulpit (which no other preacher did) to speak out the truth above our heads.
I didn’t always appreciate him. My childish ears didn’t understand the words that came from wisdom gleaned decades ago, before I was a even an imagined thought in my parents’ minds.
But as I grew up, I began to hear the respect in adults’ voices when they spoke of him, that slowing down of words that happens when we’re marvelling at someone. He was not afraid to challenge us, not afraid to shock us out of our nice little Christian shelters and stand us face to face with the Jesus we were missing.
When Rasmus first met him he was already terribly frail, bent over in his wheelchair, boney wrinkled hands laid gently in his lap, head almost to heavy to lift from his chest. But his eyes sparkled. Always sparkled. He’d smile at me, ask me how things were going, listen carefully to each reply, slowly form his next thought. And always that sparkle, that kind and slightly cheeky smile.
At our wedding, his wife wheeled him in to the ancient church in a wheelchair, positioned him at the back where he could see. My head was spinning with joy that day, and as we walked out the church to the sound of the pipes, I saw everyone and no one all at the same time. Later someone told me, he had shakily pulled himself up out of the wheelchair, to stand in our honour, as we made our first walk together as man and wife. That picture still brings tears to my eyes.
The news of his death brought tears again. But I can only smile when I think of him. And I imagine him hearing the words, well done, good and faithful servant, and the smile only widens as I see that eternal twinkle in his eye.