The mourners gathered for what turned out to be an exceptionally beautiful service for an exceptionally beautiful saint. The family tributes shone with love and tenderness. The music was angelic. The sermons were theologically rock-solid and inspiring. The funeral of David “Doc” Schroeder on Oct. 2, 2015, was an occasion to open our hearts to the fullness of the gospel of life in Christ while mourning the losses of death.
I was privileged to share church life with David and Mildred at Charleswood Mennonite Church in Winnipeg for six years. We often sat near each other on the left side close to the front. Two memories wove through my thoughts as I attended the funeral. On my first visit to Charleswood, David surprised me at the conclusion of the service by greeting me with the words, “If I’m not mistaken, I believe you and I shared a presentation some years back.”
He was correct. In the early ’90s, we had led a plenary session at a conference on sexual abuse. He brought theological reflections; I spoke as a counsellor. Although I remembered the event, I was surprised that he did too. David’s influence on the Canadian Mennonite church, especially in the western half of the country, was enormous. I can only imagine the thousands of presentations he gave and the hundreds of people he knew. An important man who remembers brief encounters, I thought, and my appreciation for him grew.
It was particularly meaningful at the time because I had moved to a new community in support of my husband’s work, leaving behind the church and professional network I had developed over 20 years. I was feeling lost and disoriented and invisible. David’s recognition of me restored a piece of worth.
The second memory involves communion. The practice at that church typically involved the elements of the bread and the cup being passed along rows. On the occasion I am recalling, I was sitting beside David. His right arm, along with other muscles, had been severely damaged by polio when he was a young man. (David’s grace-filled, resilient response to his illness and its effects profoundly shaped his life, his family and friends, his teaching and ministry.) As the plate of bread moved along the aisle, I realized that David would not be able to hold the plate while simultaneously selecting a piece of bread. He likely even, ever so subtly, signalled that to me, perhaps with the slightest of nods.
I took the plate, held it for him and then selected my own bread before sending it down the pew. We repeated the process when the tray of cups arrived. In the process, I moved out of ordinary time and space, and into a glimpse of the shining glory of the Lord’s Table: A place where we receive love, compassion, tenderness and mercy from the body and blood of Christ, which we then share with each other. I was blessed in the holy moment of giving and receiving, of serving and being served, of humility and grace. A precious reminder that the ordinary is infused with the extraordinary.
In conclusion, let us live our lives well. Let us be inspired by the saints among us, and the saints who have gone before, like David Schroeder. May their lives inspire us to follow Jesus, to face adversity with courage and trust, to use the gifts we have received from the Lord’s hand generously, to love abundantly and joyfully. And when we come to death, may we give ourselves over to a funeral that proclaims the gospel and celebrates the homecoming of a saint.
Melissa Miller (firstname.lastname@example.org) has a passion for helping people develop healthy, vibrant relationships with God, self and others.
See David Schroeder’s obituary here.