Certainly no one who was at his funeral will ever forget the old man. They had known him as husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather, farmer, friend, neighbor, parishioner and man of deep faith. We fell somewhere between the “friend” and “neighbor” categories. It wasn’t until the day of his funeral that we realized how very little we actually knew about his years of work as a farmer or the incredible number of people he had touched during his long life. Waiting 45 minutes in line at the wake service and being part of a standing room only crowd in church for the funeral attested to a life lived primarily for others. And the list of those “others” was a long one.
First, of course, there was his wife of over 60 years and the family they had raised together. Certainly the man lives on in their lives. Then there was the national dairy breeding association in which we had been active. Cows from his herd and the offspring of those cows continue to supply milk and other dairy products worldwide. Some people spoke of the man’s involvement with the FFA and 4-H and how, due in large part to his support, their lives had been enriched. There were even representatives of the local Humane Society, built on land he had donated when he retired from active farming.
Now all of these people were gathered in a little country church to pray as the pastor spoke on their behalf, expressing thanksgiving for the man’s life and asking God to grant him the eternal reward promised to all the baptized. Young and old came together in their faith that the man “… having … died with Christ … in baptism now … also live[s] with him.” When questioned about the Pharisees’ belief in the resurrection, Jesus assured his questioners that, “… to God, all are alive.” Then he quoted Moses, calling the Lord the “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” Had the same question been posed to the people in that little country church they might well have added, “… and the God of a certain old farmer who lived his life with integrity and faith.”
Van Benthem is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and a longtime pastoral minister, retreat leader, spiritual director and published writer and poet.