The National Cathedral sits atop Mount Saint Alban, the highest point in Washington D.C. It is a majestic and stately site, and it was there on a sunny and breezy May morning this past Wednesday that I had the privilege of joining with friends and family to publicly thank God for the life of my friend, Chuck Colson.
I want to tell you about it.
I want to share with you some of things I heard and some of what I saw throughout the 90-minute service.
Funerals have a way of cutting through the fog, of helping us refocus on the things that matter most in life. Of course we attend to honor the person who has passed on, but in some ways, and this may strike some as odd, to attend a funeral, especially one that honors a great man like Chuck Colson, is to receive a very special gift. Here’s why:
Attending a memorial service is akin to looking in a mirror. It reminds us that our time is coming. The day will eventually come when somebody stands up and reflects on our life. What will they say? In fact, it struck me that just three years earlier, almost to the day, it was Chuck Colson who stood in the pulpit of that very cathedral and eulogized his dear friend, the late representative Jack Kemp.
But now Chuck’s turn had come and it was others who were eulogizing him.
Chuck’s daughter, Emily, remembered her dad in very human and loving terms. She recalled having known him before he became a Christian and spoke of the radical transformation he made before her eyes upon his conversion. She spoke of how he was always “fully present” as a father and made her feel like he had all the time in the world for her – because he always did.
The Honorable Albert H. Quie recalled a moving incident when an ultra-liberal senator, the late Harold Hughes, was so touched by Chuck’s testimony that he stood up and embraced his former enemy. “If your conversion is true, and I believe it is,” he told Chuck, “then you are my brother for life.”
The Reverend Dr. Timothy George remembered a moment when Chuck approached former Clinton advisor Lanny Davis and asked if he would forgive him for the way he had treated him. Davis said the moment so convicted him that from then he has vowed to never use the term “hate” when speaking of a political adversary.
From the Scriptures that were read to the speakers who spoke to the songs that were sung, the recurring theme woven throughout the morning was this:
Jesus was a friend of sinners, and so was Chuck. Jesus sat and visited with the morally bankrupt, and so did Chuck. Jesus constantly warned about the sins of pride and arrogance and that it was only the humble who can fully appreciate the gift of His salvation. Chuck preached this same message – but only because he had been first bitten by those very same sins.
Chuck’s testimony and legacy reminds us that in our politics and in our play we’re called to reach out to those with whom we disagree and not only share with them Jesus’ words, but show them to be true by our behavior. We’re to speak truth in love but remember that grace and truth are intertwined and inseparable characteristics of the Christian life.
In Chuck’s book, The Good Life, he told a very moving story about the Russian novelist, Fyodor Dostoevsky. At the time a political prisoner, Dostoevsky was sentenced to die and brought before a firing squad. He stood in the square and awaited the bullet that would end his life. But at the very last minute his sentence was commuted and his life was spared. The famous writer would later say that his mock execution changed his outlook on the rest of his life. He was given, wrote Chuck, an opportunity to see “the end at the beginning.”
By looking at the totality of Chuck’s life, by listening to the eulogies and considering how the Lord used him in so many wonderful and miraculous ways, there is a lesson for you and for me.
When the curtain comes down on our lives, will people see and say that we had been similarly broken, humbled and transformed by the sheer wonder of the gift of God’s salvation? Will they say that, yes, we were a friend of sinners, sinners of whom we considered ourselves chief (1 Timothy 1:15)?