Searching for Easter in the Midst of ChristmasPosted: December 31, 2013
(Many of you have reached out to our family in the midst of death of my nephew, my sister’s son, Gale Stauffer, who died December 23. He was tragically killed in the line of duty, serving the City of Tupelo on the Tupelo Police Force. Below is the message I shared at Gale’s Service of Death and Resurrection. We are deeply grateful for your many, many prayers, cards, letters , text messages and calls as we have walked the valley of the shadow of death. We are grateful we do not walk alone.)
Kevin Gale Stauffer, Jr.
June 22, 1975-December 23, 2013
Lord our God, the death of Gale who has been son, brother, husband, father, grandson and friend, recalls the human condition and the brevity of our lives on earth. But, for those who believe in Your love, death is not the end. Nor, does it destroy the bonds that You forge in our lives. We share the faith of Your Son’s disciples and the hope of the children of God. Bring the light of Christ’s resurrection to this time of testing and pain as we pray for Gale and for one another who loved him deeply, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
John 15: 9-14
Greater love hath no man than this that he lay down his life for his friends.
By all accounts, this is not where any of us planned to be on the last Friday of 2013.
When the light of day broke through the darkness, Monday, December 23, none of us could have imagined that this week, a week filled with expectation, joy and celebration would be interrupted with tragedy, pain and loss. We could not have imagined that the gathering in this beloved sanctuary with our family and friends would be to celebrate the life, love, servanthood and faithfulness of Kevin Gale Stauffer, Jr.
Clay and Gale, best friends on the Tupelo Police Force, exchanged gifts Monday morning. Gale began reading Oliver North’s book, American Heroes, Clay’s gift to Gale.
The last page Gale read before going on patrol on Monday, December 23, were characteristics of a hero: they place themselves at risk for the benefit of others.
Little did Gale, Clay or Beth know that by the end of the day, we would be remembering the heroic ways in which Gale gave his life for the benefit of others, for this community and for doing the thing he was born to do.
As Clay wrote:
“Gale had the heart of a warrior, the strength of a lion and was fiercely loyal and protective of his family and friends. Gale studied, trained and practiced to always be the best at everything he did. He was a soldier. He was a police officer. He was a vigilant protector of those that he loved. In every way, Gale was the embodiment of an American hero and patriot who was never shy about expressing his love of country and always enjoyed a hearty political debate . “(especially with his Uncle Steve.)
His goal was to protect others with the best of himself, in the ways he had been trained and gifted to do. Little did we know…that in this corner of the world where life is safe, that Gale would stand in the gap for the rest of us, seeking to make our community safe.
Little did we know…that Kevin Gale Stauffer would be the one who embodied the teaching of Jesus that greater love has no one that he laid down his life for his friends.
Gale–all of him…was 150% man. He came into our family 38 years ago…born Kevin Gale Stauffer, Jr. For us, his mom and dad, grandparents, aunts and uncles, he was a joyous gift. He played hard, loved hard and worked hard.
When he was a little boy, he believed his Aunt “Winn” was his personal playmate. There were hours upon hours of football in the living room and front yard. God blessed him with a wide body. In high school he anchored the
offensive line. In his early years, he was all about – Ole Miss Rebels. However, when he moved to Baton Rouge as a teenager, he went through an amazing conversion experience over which he never recovered. His loyalty shifted to the LSU Tigers. There are some things even God cannot change about a man. Fiercely competitive—highly opinionated—to which those who followed him on Facebook could attest…Gale was extremely loyal.
When his country called, he responded. He spent 14 months in Bagdad and was proud to defend our country. Upon his return, he turned to protecting our city, our friends, our families.
Standing with his brothers and sisters in the Tupelo Police Force, his leadership could be termed shepherd and servant by the way he lived. His compassion was always with the victim. He sought to be a protector of those he loved most – Beth, Dixie, Skip and his extended family…as well as the community of Tupelo, Mississippi.
Gale gave his life doing that which he loved and that which he deeply believed in. Not one of us expected that in Tupelo, Mississippi, the pale of darkness could or would fall as it has in these last days.
So little did we know that on this day of days, we would find ourselves moving so quickly from the expectation of the joy of the Birth of the Christ’s Child at Christmas to the suffering, abandonment and pain of the Cross.
How could we have seen that on the last Friday in 2013, we would be hunkered down and huddled up like the disciples in the Upper Room after Jesus was crucified? Like the disciples, we are afraid. But the darkness we have experienced has stirred in us other emotions. What do you bring today?
Maybe you come with:
Over the last few days, I have felt every one of these emotions. I wonder if this is true for you as well. What do you bring today? Whatever you bring, let this be your offering to God today. Place these things in God’s good hands. Whatever you bring, bring to the foot of the cross, the crucified Christ. Do not hold on to that which you bring, but rather, give it to the Christ. For us today, the light of Christmas has been extinguished.
The light of Easter has yet to dawn. We sit in the darkness of the cross. We hunker down in the midst of darkness. We do so knowing that the darkness is great. And yet we know that we stand in a tradition that is bold to proclaim that the light cannot be overcome by the darkness. We gather to claim the promise that the light came into the world on that first Christmas. That light shines here even in the midst of the darkness around us. Indeed, what we do know is that the light and love of Christ has come into the world. We gather to claim the promise that the light and love of Christ overcomes the darkness. The light of Christ overcomes even death. No matter how dark this day is, the darkness has not overcome the light, nor us, nor this world.
What we do know is that the order of creation has been disrupted.
I heard my mother say, “you don’t expect to outlive your children—but you certainly do not expect to outlive your grandchildren.” Indeed, when an elder dies, they take with them the past, all that has been. When a young man at age 38 with two small children and a wife who adores him dies, the future has been taken away. This is what makes this mountain of grief so incredibly difficult, so dark, so senseless and so seemingly unending.
What we do know is this:
Because the light of Christ has come into the world, Gale’s tragic death is not God’s will. It is not God’s will that a 38 year old husband and father of two beautiful children should have his life snuffed out like a candle on a dark night two days before Christmas to teach us some lesson we have not learned.
We do know that God’s heart breaks every time evil oversteps a boundary of good and right and truth. We do know that this day, the God we love with an everlasting love, the God who teaches us the way of love and life, is weeping and wanting to wipe from our eyes every tear we cry.
What we do know is that our tendency this day is to believe that hate begets hate and our real temptation today is to allow the hate we feel for the perpetrator to get the best of us. If those of us who loved Gale the most are not careful, we will allow that anger to rage within us in such a way that it clouds our ability to see clearly the light of Christ and see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
So, how do we respond to this? Where do we go from here? Hunkered as we are, how do we release ourselves from this mountain of grief into the hands of God? If we are not full of care for ourselves, for each other, for the community, we will lose sight of one of the last commandments Christ gave us: TO LOVE. If we are not full of care, if we do not carefully attend to our grief in the days to come, we will not bear fruit that will last.
What we are to do is simply this: Hold on to one another. Hold on to the gift that Gale is and has been to us. Hold on to the good memories that are ours of Gale. Hold on to the grace that, in God’s good time, will hold us because we cannot hold ourselves. Hold on to each other. Hold on to the eternal light of Christ.
The light that has come is the promise of Easter; even though this very Friday, we cannot yet see our way to the dawn of Easter light. As baptized Christians, we trust that the light of Easter will come.
So we pray, come Lord Jesus, come. Come heal us, Come and soften our hearts. Break our hearts of stone that we may again rise from this place with love that reigns in us. Come save us; save us from ourselves and our sinning.
Last night as friends came and gathered around our family and gave us the strength we did not have in and of ourselves, I saw so many who have walked this way before. Those who have stood where we now stand and who have grieved the unbearable grief of the loss of a child or a spouse. In this, the longest week of our lives, I am reminded of something William Slone Coffin, the former esteemed pastor of Riverside Church in New York City, said a few days after his 24 year old son was killed tragically in an automobile accident:
“among the healing flood of letters that followed his death was one carrying this wonderful quote from the end of Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms,”
“The world breaks everyone, then some become strong at the broken places.”
Our deepest prayer this day is that our own hearts will mend. That they will mend to the degree that we remember that love begets love, in the begetting, it transmits strength. (Coffin)
What strengthens us—Beth, Dixie, Skip, Caroline, Debbie, Kevin, all of us: is You; Your unwavering friendship and love. As we walk this lonesome valley, the real temptation is for us to walk bravely alone; we simply cannot. As headstrong and strong-willed as this family can be, we are not strong enough to do this new way of walking alone.
We have been moved these last several days, and especially last night and today, with the powerful witness of our sisters and brothers within the ranks of our law enforcement family. We are grateful for your love and support.
Against that backdrop, we now march as the “latest recruits in the world’s army of the bereaved.”(Coffin) More than once these last days, we have felt the absence of the presence of God. But, in that overwhelming feeling that turns us upside down and breaks us into, we find ourselves with Jesus on the cross, out of control and crying – “My God, My God why has thou forsaken us” quoting Psalm 22.
Our tendency is to overlook the fact that the Psalm doesn’t end there. The Psalmist expresses the deep feelings, pain and agony of abandonment…but the last turn of the Psalm is a turn to the future…trusting that the Goodness of God will be enough.
The grief we feel today, the grief we have felt since Monday, seems unbearable. In time, it will turn to a bearable sorrow.
Not soon. Not today. But one day. One day, we will wake up and we will discover that the sorrow we feel is more bearable. Somehow, we will find ways to bear the sorrow that has come, uninvited, into our midst. Then, what we will know is that “the goodness of the Lord dwells in the land of the living…”
And we will rise up from this unbearable sorrow and proclaim:
“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it!”
Amen and Amen