Thursday morning in a country church on the outskirts of Macon, Jimmy Elder said goodbye to his mother. He had previously preached the funerals of his father, Dr. James Elder Sr., and his brother, Chris.
Jimmy, the pastor at First Baptist Church in Columbus, stood in the pulpit of Midway Baptist, just down the hill from Jacquelyn Causey Elder’s family home, and told a beautiful and touching story of faith and family.
To understand that story of faith — Elder’s father was a Baptist pastor and his mother was part of a tag-team that brought that faith alive in word and song — one needed to understand the story of the family.
“Our home was alive with the sound of music and mom was the primary source,” Jimmy said. “To be sure, both she and dad were excellent musicians, but mom was the musician of our home. She played piano, violin, viola and cello.”
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A home alive with the sound of music certainly paints a picture, doesn’t it?
That is what Jimmy did so well last week. He painted the story in words that came from deep inside his heart and soul. The best eulogies are when the pastor has a connection to the deceased. What connection is stronger than that of a son to his mother?
Now 61, Jimmy took the mourners back to his youth. He talked about “milk chocolate fudge that was warm, fragrant, decadent and delicious; strawberry milkshakes that she made from scratch; Saturday nights filled with reading our Sunday School lessons, polishing shoes, trimming hair, having waffles, and taking baths to make sure we were ready for church the next day.”
As the memories came out of his mouth, a man who is now a grandfather himself, was a kid again. He was vulnerable and strong in the same breath.
And those who didn’t know Jacquelyn Elder could see her reflection in the oldest of her three boys. And the picture Jimmy didn’t paint in words, his brother, Jerry, painted in music, first on the piano, then with trumpet.
There also was the pain of loss — the loss of her memory in her declining years and the loss of the gifts that she held most dear.
“Dad’s death, and later, Chris’ death changed her life forever,” Jimmy said, “She has never been fully the same.”
But there was one piece of the eulogy that struck a chord. It was something Jimmy said he remembered above all else.
“Dad was perfect in mom’s sight,” Jimmy said. “I can still see how she looked at him and loved him. I can still see how he looked at her and loved her.”
I never saw Dr. James Elder Sr. look at his wife; or her look back. But I have seen Jimmy look at his wife of 38 years, Roxann. And I have seen her look back. They were junior high sweethearts, and there is no hiding that affection in their glances.
It is not hard to imagine where the template for that love and devotion can be found.
“The things that she and dad taught all of us and modeled for us is that which will take us safely through our lives and be the foundation for generations to come.”
Amen. Amen. And amen.