Last week our columnist John Stackhouse preached at the funeral of Evelyn Bodner, 19-year-old daughter of friends in Moncton, New Brunswick. With the family’s approval, he has sent a transcript of that message.
I was completely unprepared when Crandall University colleague Prof. Keith Bodner phoned me to say that his daughter had been killed in a car accident on an icy road between Trail and Castlegar, BC. He asked if I would preach at her funeral in Kelowna, and of course I said yes.
I had been enjoying a casual week’s vacation with my family when the dreadful news came. So I flew to Kelowna with nothing appropriate to wear for the service. I ended up preaching in a navy collared shirt and khaki trousers…as if I’d stepped out of an Eddie Bauer catalogue, albeit one aimed at an older, rounder clientele.
I wasn’t ready for such an awful occasion. Who is?
My late father was a cancer surgeon. He would operate in the mornings and then meet patients in the afternoons. And almost every day, he once told me, he’d have to give someone the grim news that there was nothing they could do, the disease was too far advanced, and they would face death very soon.
What percentage of his patients were ready for such news? Zero. Who is?
Evelyn Bodner was on her way to write a mid-term exam. She wasn’t ready for death. Who is?
But she was ready for what comes after.
What does? And how do you prepare for that?
Many Canadians, even those who have attended church, imagine the next life as our souls flying up to heaven, being handed a white robe, being assigned a particular cloud, and being issued a harp to play…forever.
How do you prepare for that “Far Side” cartoon-version of heaven: an endless, dull worship service? Presumably by finding the most boring church in town and attending its meetings as often as you can.
But Evelyn knew better. She had listened to her dad preach the Old Testament and the New. She had worshiped in churches that taught the Bible well. And she knew that the last two chapters of the Bible depict…not us going up to heaven…but God bringing heaven down to earth.
The New Jerusalem is not some vague, vaporous thing, but an actual city, replete with trees and water and fruit and light and buildings and streets and joy. It isn’t an escape from earth. It is Earth 2.0.
How do you prepare for that? By becoming perfect, so you won’t spoil it. And by becoming immortal, so you can enjoy it forever.
Evelyn did her best. She plunged into life, as her family does. She was a trained and talented musician, an athlete and lifeguard, with homemaking skills and a hospitable heart who gave happiness to everyone who knew her.
She lived every day to become more and more the best version of herself, practicing living the fullest, richest life she could.
And she knew that wouldn’t be enough. She couldn’t make herself perfect, nor immortal.
So Evelyn trusted God for all she couldn’t do herself. She trusted Jesus’ Cross to atone for her sins, and Jesus’ Resurrection for her hope that she, too, would be raised from the dead.
She trusted the Holy Spirit to give her a fresh start in a new life, to be born again. She trusted that Spirit to direct and empower her each day to become more and more the person God wanted her to be.
She trusted the Bible, among the many books she loved, to give her the very Word of God as guide and encouragement in every decision. And she trusted the Church for sustaining company on the Way.
She turned to God for what she couldn’t provide for herself: rescue, renewal, and rehabilitation. She turned to God for the gospel.
On that terrible day, anyone who knew her could be sure that Evelyn Bodner was ready for that midterm. But she never got there. She went straight to the final…the final final.
And when she arrived, there was no exam. Just a warm, warm welcome…to the rest of her life.
For that, Evelyn Bodner was ready. And she would want each of us to be ready, too.
Condolences can be sent to the Bodners at their sabbatical address: Box 1033, Caronport, SK, SOH OSO.
Donations to support a scholarship in the name of Evelyn are welcome here: Go to https://forms.crandallu.ca/donate, select “Other,” and type “Bodner.”