Eulogy for Edward

Written and presented by Rev. Brian Combs

We are decedents of wandering Arameans.  Beginning with Adam and Eve in Genesis through the book of Revelation, salvation history narrates a people who spent much of their lives as homesick itinerants, on the road East of Eden in search of something lost, praying to be found by a creator and cause bigger than themselves.  

Following the ancestors before him, Edward’s housing status was always precarious.  Physically, he was homeless the first time we met, toiling on the waitlist for a permanent address.  Spiritually, Edward was often an exile, trudging between here and there in hopes of residence, knocking on many front doors that rarely opened.   

Unknowingly, the disciples were about to be dislodged themselves.  Judas was counting silver coins, the authorities were plotting the God-Man’s arrest, and a wooden cross was being raised high in Jerusalem.  Jesus felt death’s encroach, and he wanted to say goodbye, slowly.

Chapter 14 of John’s Gospel is part of what’s known as the Farewell Discourse, Jesus’ longest uninterrupted dialogue in the entire New Testament.  Like any faithful Rabbi, he initiates a pastoral conversation with his disciples, a last chance to verbally console his inner circle before the crush of his overwhelming absence.        

Wanting, above all else, to communicate comfort, Jesus says,  

John 14:1-4 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 

After a decade of ministry together, Edward listened to hundreds of my sermons.  His feistiest reaction came a few years ago when I shared this story. Susan is a secretary in Waynesville. She felt called to become a certified lay speaker and began to offer pulpit supply at area churches.  One Sunday morning, Susan decided to forgo the powdered face, left the curling iron unplugged, and sifted through her dirty hamper for yesterday’s workout clothes.  She arrived at the tall steeple church and found the back pew.  As the members gathered, no one made eye contact, slid the pew pad over, extended a greeting, or passed the peace of Christ.  Back in the sacristy, the church leaders were frantic.  Worship began without a substitute.  After collecting the offering, the pulpit looked even more vacant without a preacher in sight.  Then Susan stood up and walked down the center aisle.  She climbed the stairs of the chancel, turned to face the congregation, and said, “Many of you are my friends; we know each other. But today, I went unrecognized, ignored.  I experienced how this church treats outsiders.”  

Because of his beautiful black skin in mostly white Asheville, his classical training as an organist when people requested James Brown, his bisexuality in a heteronormative society, Edward often felt like a disowned outsider, left to wait in the dark on the stoop of life.  But rather than let the trauma of exclusion corrupt his behavior, he often subverted it for good.  When a famished sister stumbled into the church, Edward ushered her to the table for a shared meal.  When a shivering congregant was too inebriated to find a winter coat, Edward combed the clothing closet on his behalf. When an unrehearsed musician wanted to offer special music, Edward would push her to the front for a solo and follow accompanying music.  And at St. Mattias and Haywood Street, he directed our music programs as if we were all close kin gathered around the living room piano, bossing us into singing with more spirit as the chorus rolled around. Edward’s sense of displacement informed his ministry; he made sure everyone else had a place.          

In today’s passage, the word “house” is often translated as “mansion,” especially in the King James version, conjuring heavenly images of a palatial estate in the sky with golden tiles and gilded knobs, grand staircases and glittering chandeliers.  But the original language has very little to do with a building and everything to do with an everlasting sense of belonging.    

To those soon to be aching disciples, Jesus promised to go ahead of them inhabiting a new role: Homemaker.  For eternity, he would give his resurrected life to hospitality, laundering the linens, preparing the final banquet, making sure everyone had a seat at the table, welcoming home every son and daughter as they were created good by God, revealing the ultimate truth that heaven isn’t a material place but rather an eternal embrace, an arms-wrapped-tightly homecoming that never ends.      

Paul Simon, the singer/ songwriter, penned these famous lyrics, 

“Every day’s an endless stream
Of cigarettes and magazines
And each town looks the same to me
The movies and the factories
And every stranger’s face I see
Reminds me that I long to be…”

Edward Clarence Smith- prodigy son, beloved brother, cherished uncle, trusted neighbor, principal musician, Christian collaborator- you aren’t just homeward bound anymore, you’re finally home. Forever.