“Welcome, Lord, into your calm and peaceful kingdom those who, out of this present life, have departed to be with you; grant them rest and a place with the spirits of the just; and give them the life that knows not age, the reward that passes not away; through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Ignatius Loyola, 1491-1556)
Bill Kelly, dear friend and inspiration for so many of us, died on Monday night. He came home from work, started to prepare dinner, and collapsed at the age of 58. There are no words. I waved at Bill after we worshipped God together on Sunday, and a day later he was gone.
Now I know all the wonderful promises of God we run towards in times of breathless tragedy. And I know all the words of hope we offer to one another so that hope remains. It’s all wonderful. good news. But today I’m not ready for such things, because this day and these days are much more like Good Friday than anything else, because Bill Kelly has died. He once gave me a Desert Storm Bible. Here are the scriptures from it that ring true just now:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? I have cried desperately for help, but still it does not come. During the day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer; I call at night, but get no rest.” (Psalm 22)
“We grow and wither as quickly as flowers; we disappear like shadows.” (Job 14)
These are the words of gospel truth for this dark day. And the poet’s words of comfort are only these:
Dreams by Langston Hughes
Hold fast to dreams For if dreams die Life is a broken-winged bird That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams For when dreams go Life is a barren field Frozen with snow.
Bill Kelly has died — much too young, and much too suddenly. As people of faith, it’s alright, and downright necessary that we sit and stay in this dark time of grief and loss for awhile. To do so is NOT evidence that we have lost our faith, but that indeed we have faith enough in God to ask the unanswerable questions of why? And what for? And what good is there in this? And How Long, O Lord?
Bill was a good and faithful human being and Christian Pilgrim, the kind of person the world so needs. Once, in the midst of cleaning my clock on the golf course, and in the midst of ruminating on life, I asked Bill how he would summarize his life’s purpose, and he responded, in his usual self-effacing way, “To serve the needs of my fellow man.” And this he did, on Iraq and Bahrain desert roads, and at 26th and California on Chicago’s south side. This he did in his faithful love for Sue and all his children. This he did with faith in Almighty God and love for his neighbor wherever he happened to be.
And our faith’s resurrection hope will surely come. But for now, we grieve, we grieve. Sorrow owns this day.
O God of grace and glory, we remember before you today our brother Bill. We thank you for giving him to us to know nd to love as a companion of our pilgrimage. In your boundless compassion, console us who mourn. Give us your help so we may see in death the gate to eternal life, that we may continue our course on earth in confidence until, by your call, we are reunited with those who have gone before us; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.