Grief, Gratitude, Glory: Remembering Pastor David Jordan-Haas
7/15/20 Glenda Simpkins Hoffman
I have loved being in so many psalms, particularly the lament psalms. It has been a year of grief and lament as we have lived through many transitions, retirements, the experience of COVID-19, the economic insecurity and, the racial injustice that so many are experiencing.
But for me, and I think for many, the year of lament started and was most profoundly experienced when pastor David went to glory a year ago this Saturday, July 18. Of course, no one feels that more than his beloved family—Connie, Mary Grace, Julia, and Drew. But his loving presence was a big loss to individuals and our community as a whole. It’s hard to believe he’s been gone a year; we still miss him and lament the loss of his presence with us.
But thinking about him also brings waves of gratitude for the blessing he was to so many. I remember the first time I met David. Pete and I met with him together on the weekend he was brought for in-person interviews. I knew immediately he was a kindred spirit. We talked about the two prongs of discipleship. Spiritual formation happens as we give ourselves to God through intentional practices, relationships, and experiences.
But transformation also comes through times of suffering and pain as we discover our limits and lack of control and learn to lean into and trust God in ways we never knew we needed. David was gifted at both as he “companioned” people on their journey of growing in Christ together and came alongside those in pain and helping them to experience God’s presence even there. He was a master at that and blessed so many.
Some years ago our staff took the strength-finders assessment. Some of us joked that David was “a blue man” because his top strengths were in the relational category, which were designated blue. But an assessment wasn’t necessary to know that about David. Five minutes in his presence would confirm that reality. He was a very relational person in his life and in his ministry. Whether you just met him or knew him for years, his loving, caring, compassionate, and joyful relational qualities were apparent to all.
As a leader, his style was that of a shepherd. He was so much like Jesus: “When he (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest’” (Matthew 9:36-37).
David saw people as God’s beloved children. He often called me and others a beloved daughter of God or sister. I heard him call many men beloved sons, brothers in Christ. I have heard someone say at least 100 people felt they were his best friend. He truly was a friend to so many. And he was a wonderful mentor. He had the great ability of coming alongside people listening, caring, and providing spiritual direction to help others find the next steps in their journey with God to find healing, help, and transformation.
David also knew his limits, so as a leader he was committed to equipping and training others (deacons, Stephen Ministers, support group leaders, and others) to care for people. He was always concerned about helping more and more people experience the love and mercy of Christ even in seasons of struggle and pain. Like so many others, I am truly grateful for the privilege of knowing him and serving with him here at VPC. He is still missed by many.
On Saturday I officiated at the burial of Chris Chun, a longtime member involved in the church in many ways. She served with David in the deacon ministry for at least six years. At her committal service, I read a number of passages that witness to the hope of the resurrection and the glory of heaven. So I was thinking about that for her, David, and others whom many of us know who have passed on to glory.
And then on Sunday I finished the last book in The Chronicles of Narnia series, which I started reading again about two months ago for the umpteenth time. Most of it was familiar, but I had forgotten much of the last book. However, my favorite part of the entire series were the last chapters of The Last Battle. The story is an imaginative picture of the new heaven described in many and varied ways in Revelation—the hope of the resurrection, the hope of glory promised to those who trust in Christ. I think David would say this image of heaven is “delicious.”
There is a door that brings the characters into a reality that is different and so much more wonderful than they ever experienced or could have ever even imagined: “It was Jewel the Unicorn who summed up what everyone was feeling…. ‘I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this. Come further up, come further in!’”
The book concludes: “And as He [Aslan, the Christ figure] spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
I still feel grief for David’s family and for all of us in the congregation who miss his presence. But greater than the grief is the gratitude for his life and ministry that will continue to ripple through our community and beyond for years to come. And greater still is my confidence that David and others we have loved and miss are in the glorious presence of our risen and reigning Lord.
And one day we will enjoy a glad reunion with Jesus and all those who have trusted in his name. Until that day, we can continue to look to Jesus, embrace the adventure he has for us, and heed his call to go “further up and further in” as we grow in and enjoy our relationship with Jesus in his kingdom here and now and forevermore.