Summary: Funeral sermon for Edward D. Mitchell -- accountant, musician, deacon; age 85
That classic spiritual writer John Bunyan ends his Pilgrim’s Progress with a triumphant note, saying that after Pilgrim had traveled many miles and fought off many adversaries, when he got to the other side, the angels came out to welcome him. John Bunyan knew that if your lifestyle is that of a pilgrim, a seeker, then there is something special awaiting you. Angels come out to welcome you to the other side.
Edward Mitchell has been welcomed by the angels. Ed Mitchell’s pilgrimage ran eighty-five years, and ran deep; in that pilgrimage he lived a glorious life. He was also given a glorious death.
To some death comes slowly and with a great deal of anguish. To others death comes suddenly and with brutality. But to Ed death came slowly enough that he could finish his pilgrimage, and swiftly enough that he would not gather bitterness. Lucid and alert until the end, Ed was given a chance to see what only a few see, opening his eyes at the moment of death as if to say, “They’ve come for me“; and Ed, the musician, was given a chance to hear music that no earthly ear can hear. For that we say thanks be to God.
It’s Christmas. At first glance an awkward time for a funeral. And yet there is a wonderful fitness, just the same. For Christmas is about the word made flesh, dwelling among us, full of grace and truth. And death is about the flesh made word and witness. In life we are reminded of death, but in death we receive the witness of life.
Close by the Christmas story there was a man whose life gives us a clue to Ed Mitchell’s life. Luke tells us of Simeon, a resident of Jerusalem, who went on pilgrimage to the Temple, there to see what God was doing. We do not know more about how Simeon knew that it was time; all we know is that he listened to the Spirit. And when he listened, Simeon understood that he was ready to die. I think Ed Mitchell could have spoken Simeon’s words last Thursday afternoon:
Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.
Simeon had followed the Spirit’s lead, and was thus ready to die. In fact, the phrase the Scripture uses of Simeon is that he was “looking forward”. Simeon, “looking forward to the consolation of Israel.” Ed Mitchell too had followed the Spirit’s lead, looking forward.
Notice first that the Scripture describes Simeon as righteous and devout.
“This man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him.”
Righteous and devout. Those two words mark two sides of a man’s personality. Righteousness – that’s integrity. That’s standing for something. That’s getting it right. And that was Ed Mitchell. His accountant’s mind wanted to get it right. He was serving on our Stewardship Committee, which oversees our church’s finances. Ed’s continuing refrain was, “Are we getting what we are paying for? Are we receiving value for our investment?” Getting it right. A truly righteous man.
But along side Ed’s accountant’s mind there was also an artist’s heart. There was a soul passionate about music. A man who took joy in playing his clarinet and his saxophone, where the spirit could take flight. A quiet but persistent voice that wanted to see this church with a male chorus, so that men could praise the Lord in their own unique way. He was so persistent on this point that even when he sat on our Building and Grounds Committee, he would say, “Our church ought to have a male chorus”. Others would say, “But, Mr. Mitchell, that’s not the business of the Building and Grounds Committee.” But he would just smile and say, “Well, somebody needs to get it started.” He had an artist’s heart as well as an accountant’s mind; he joined the practical and the spiritual. Righteous and devout. And looking forward to give us a gift we did not yet have.
Small wonder, then, that his eyes should witness the angels coming for him. If you have already invested in Kingdom things, your eyes look forward to see what others do not see.
Oh, Simeon gives us clues about Ed Mitchell today. For not only did Simeon’s pilgrimage mark him as righteous and devout, but Simeon’s instincts led him to do something else that highlights Ed Mitchell’s life. Simeon moved to embrace a child. Simeon let himself be drawn to the innocence and beauty of the child Jesus. What are we told about?