(Every minister has one of those little old ladies in his pastoral career that stands out from the rest. She is your biggest cheerleader, your most faithful prayer partner, your personal chef, and the only one who buys all your sermon tapes. In 2003, I lost mine after a short illness that claimed her life and sent her home to glory. This past weekend, while archiving some files, I ran across the eulogy I preached at her funeral on December 4, 2003. I post it now as a tribute to her, and as an encouragement to those who search for words to express on those most somber occasions.)
Members of New Hope Baptist Church and brother pastor, extended family and friends, I rise today on the occasion of home-going for one of God’s choice lambs, a godly woman of humble means, to offer my final tribute for Ollie Collier. The air outside chills our skin, the season of winter is begun, but the warm assurance of faith that Miss Ollie has gone to her eternal reward at the feet of the risen Christ gives us cause to rejoice rather than grieve.
The English language is handicap to convey my deep appreciation to the Collier family for inviting me to be here for them, and for Miss Ollie. On many occasions she would insist that, if at all possible when the day would come, I should return to Fayetteville and see that she was laid to rest properly. The Collier family has honored her by inviting me, and you have honored me as well.
Even though we who know Christ are comforted that our beloved sister is with Him in Heaven, it is through tears that we express our joy. It is through pain and grief that we allow the angels to meet her over whom they have watched these many years. It is with tightness in our throats that we affirm today, “the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
If you had the privilege and blessing of God to spend even one moment with that holy woman lying before me, then you share with me in a sense of real and mournful loss. But you also must share with me in remembrance of the profound and irreplaceable gift of God that was, and forever will be, our dear Miss Ollie.
Last evening, as I was flying from Texas to be here today, the sun had long set and there was a glittering of lights out of my window as the shadowy landscape passed under in near immobile torpor. As I looked out the window, I thought to myself about how something that seems to move so slowly is actually passing quickly; and I was immediately aware that life with Miss Ollie was like that.
In my mind I can trace moments of uproarious laughter with her—at times Miss Ollie would get completely embarrassed at herself for laughing so heartily—I can remember times of quiet reflection about life, the Scriptures, and how things were “getting along.” These days are in my mind as a sequence of eternity—a realization that God filled our lives with scenes that will never be forgotten, moments of endless joy.
But now those moments are gone.
Funeral services can be daunting tasks for preachers. You want to say the right thing. You want to say it well. You want to give expression to grief and assurance of the future. You want to say everything that needs to be said, and no more. The difficulty with a Christian funeral is that in speaking too much about men, we often say too little about God. I can hear Miss Ollie telling me, “Pastor Ben, you tell them about Jesus…you make sure they hear about Him. Don’t bother saying too much about me.”
But what Miss Ollie’s humility would never allow her to admit is that to speak about her IS to speak about Christ. For in her, as in no other that I have known or ministered to, the living Christ was present.