These are my final thoughts about death, which God brought to me last month while we were grieving so many who had died. I call this the “punch line,” and you’ll soon see why. I’ve been reading Frederick Buechner’s book, Listening to Your life, this year. Among other devotions, it contains a series of messages given to the Congregational Church of Rupert, VT, at the occasion of its 200th anniversary. Here is an excerpt from the final message that Buechner gave at that event, and I’ll let these words speak for themselves:
In the year 1831, it seems, the church was repaired and several new additions were made. One of them was a new steeple with a bell in it, and once it was set in place and painted, apparently, an extraordinary event took place. “When the steeple was added,” Howard Mudgett writes in his history, “one agile Lyman Woodard stood on his head in the belfry with his feet toward Heaven.”
That’s the one and only thing I’ve been able to find out about Lyman Woodard, whoever he was, but it is enough. I love him for doing what he did. It was a crazy thing to do. It was a risky thing to do. It ran counter to all standards of New England practicality and prudence. It stood the whole idea that you’re supposed to be nothing but solemn in church on its head just like Lyman himself standing upside down on his. And it was also a magical and magnificent and Mozartian thing to do.
If the Lord is indeed our shepherd, then everything goes topsy-turvy. Losing becomes finding and crying becomes laughing. The last become first and the weak become strong. Instead of life being done in by death in the end as we always supposed, death is done in finally by life in the end. If the Lord is our host at the great feast, then the sky is the limit…
We must pray for each other. We must nourish each other, weep with each other, rejoice with each other. Sometimes we must just learn to let each other alone. In short, we must love each other. We must never forget that. But let us never forget Lyman Woodard either silhouetted up there against the blue Rupert sky. Let us join him in the belfry with our feet toward Heaven like his because Heaven is where we are heading. That is our faith and what better image of faith could there be? It is a little crazy. It is a little risky. It sets many a level head wagging. And it is also our richest treasure and the source of our deepest joy and highest hope. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. — Frederick Buechner, Listening to Your Life, pg. 176-177, 181