Remembering a Dear Friend and Brother in Christ

Mike Heath – December 8, 2020

I feel very privileged and blessed to be asked to share some thoughts at Mike’s Memorial Service on December 20. Thank you dear Judy for your love and friendship all these years, and for asking me to speak.

Little did I know when I first met Mike at Eastern Illinois University in 1975 that he would turn out to be my longest and dearest BFF and brother in Christ. I have so many wonderful, humorous, serious, thoughtful, political, theological/philosophical, familial, sports, business, Bible, and basic Christian life discussions and memories of Mike. They will keep me pondering and laughing for the rest of my days.

Especially dear to our hearts were the last 31 years where Patty and I couldn’t abide more than 8 or 9 months without our Mike/Judy fix, either in a week’s vacation or extended weekend get-togethers. Dear Judy – fear not – we will continue this legacy, especially at the Evans B & B featuring soft sheets, hot breakfasts, a hot tub, and warm and healing laughter.

In today’s world of rugged and angry individualism and separation, such a gift of love and friendship and loyalty and persistence and deep spiritual communion for forty-five years is the rarest of gifts, one Patty and I will always treasure and ponder, and gain life and joy from before we join Mike in our heavenly home.

Please tolerate for a moment how my mind works as I’ve thought of what to say from the perspective of several hats I have worn in life … My first reflections are as a retired pastor and priest in Christ’s church. I find myself pondering two absolute foundational Christian truths, which, in some ways are the most central to our Faith:

  1. Humanity’s Greatest Enemy
  2. Humanity’s Greatest and Only Saviour from that enemy

Death, whose sting is just as sharp as ever, the very polar opposite of love and life, is what St. Paul calls “Our greatest enemy.” And Jesus Christ, who by His incarnation, suffering, death and resurrection from the dead, has freely chosen to “Trample down death.” He has obliterated this enemy for every single person and rescued us from the pit of despair and non-being.

The Eastern Orthodox service of Easter, which we call Pascha, begins at 11:30 pm on Holy Saturday night, and then for 3 ½ hours, over and over the whole congregation sings “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs, bestowing life.” And then for the 40 days before Christ’s Ascension, every single Sunday Liturgy of worship begins and ends with this refrain and proclamation. SO THAT WE NEVER FORGET the very heart of the Gospel: “If Christ is not risen from the dead, then our faith is in vain.”

In Hebrews 2, Paul has this to say in verse 14: (and I’ll take the liberty to insert Mike’s name into the text):

         14 Inasmuch then as Mike has partaken of flesh and blood, He      
        (Jesus) Himself, likewise shared in the same, that through death
       He might destroy him who had the power of death (over Mike),
       that is, the devil, 15 and release Mike and all those who
       through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to    
       bondage.” Then in 1 Corinthians 15:22, Paul tells us “For as in
       Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. 26 The
       last enemy that will be destroyed is death.”

Paul explains further in Hebrews 2 that Jesus has chosen to take on all our frailty, sufferings, and shame, and is not ashamed to proclaim God to all of us: “I will put My trust in Him.” Then He speaks about us who trust in God: “And again: Here am I and the children whom God has given Me.” 

On December 8, 2020, when our dear brother Mike entered into eternal peace and joy, I believe that Jesus, Who “by the grace of God, tasted death for everyone,” greeted Mike – our Mike, and spoke these words to His Father, to our Father in heaven, and to all the heavenly hosts, and to all the saints gone on before:

Wisdomlet us be attentive! Here stands Michael Heath from Kansas City, Missouri, United States of America, whom God our Father has given to me. Welcome, welcome, welcome … welcome my faithful and beloved brother, and my friend.”

Then, some brief thoughts from my Counselor hat . . .

Death is an enemy, even though its “ultimate sting” has been removed. Elizabeth Kubler Ross, in her 1969 ground-breaking book “On Death and Dying” says that anger, followed by sadness, is part of what we will most likely experience when we lose a dear loved one, perhaps in waves like the ocean, over time.

We get to feel anger and deep sadness at this enemy who unexpectedly came to Mike’s door just a few short weeks after he felt a slight headache. We cannot and should not try to deny it. Grief and the grief process is what we call this great cavern and mental/emotional wound that has opened up between our minds and our hearts . . .

Our minds, full of “logical and objective” reasonings – rehearse the normal cliches . . . “well, the virus, it can randomly hit anyone at any time; who knows how long we have on earth; Yeah Mike, such a good guy. We’ll miss him but, you know, he’s in a better place; it’s really sad but at least as far as we know he didn’t suffer once he was sedated . . .”

Let’s be clear – there is nothing wrong with those thoughts and words. Because that’s what our mindlogic sounds like. But our hearts have their own logic. It’s in our hearts where all whom we love and care for dwell. It is the God-part of us that makes us so vulnerable when we love . . .  and when a loved one dies, that part isn’t having any of the mind’s ramblings.

“NO–NO – It’s NOT POSSIBLE! Mike can’t die like this; he can’t leave us; we have to be able to see him and say goodbye . . . Mike, how can you leave us like this? The doctors said there was a good chance you’ll recover after a few months . . . this is terrible!”

This is what our grief will sound like at times as the waves of Mike’s memory wash up against our heart’s shore.

I’m losing a dear dear friend of 45 years . .. . who brought such love and joy to my life . . . and a large hole has opened up inside me, and in all of us who love him . . . present tense . . . we LOVE him. And yes, I’m angry at times, and all my memories are now tinged with a sadness at my loss of all the conversations and interactions I can no longer have with my dearest of friends.

Finally, these thoughts are from what I’m calling my humble but strong “Hat of Faith,” which scripture and holy Tradition teach me to believe and hope though I can’t “scientifically prove” the following assertions.

In many Orthodox prayers, we acknowledge one of the many biblical confessions of who Jesus is: “The great Physician of our souls and Bodies.” He came to carry all our pains and sorrows, and He alone can and will, by His grace and however long it takes, heal this “Mike Heath wound,” this chasm between our heads and our hearts.

He will gently knit us back together, and we will find more and more ways to be thankful for the time we did have with Mike, and to recognize how wonderful GOD, in and through Mike, blessed us with glimpses and experiences of Paradise. What my faith knows, is that whether one knew or believed in God, when they met Mike, they met Christ in Mike, and tasted a tiny bit of heaven.

Mike was one of the smartest men I’ve ever known. And quick witted. And so funny and humble at the same time. An amazing mind and heart. But at 8:30 Central time on Tuesday December 8, 2020, this Mike, our Mike, began to

         “see what his eyes had never seen,”
         “to hear what his ears had never heard” while living among us,
         “and to experience things” which, in spite of Mike’s great  
         intelligence, reading, and study, had never even entered into his
         or anyone’s consciousness while on the earth. 1 Corinthians 2:9

At the hour of his death, escorted by His Guardian angel, all of this was just beginning to dawn on our Mike. And now God has begun to teach Mike the “language of heaven,” which the great fathers and mothers of our Faith have told us, is  SILENCE.  And believe it or not, I don’t think Mike will have any problem learning that language.

You see, Mike is beginning to experience the universe’s greatest Mystery, “hidden before all ages.”  The blessed and divine Trinity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Who out of their eternal love within each Other, spoke creation and each one of us into existence.  “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness …”  Let us wondrously knit Mike in his mother’s womb . . . and give him as gift to all who will know him.

This Mystery is so full, so rich, so endlessly deep and unfathomable, so ravished by LOVE and uncreated LIGHT which, as the 3 apostles saw on Mt. Tabor, shone “brighter than a thousand suns,” and which according to what John the Beloved disciple saw includes “four living creatures, each having six wings, full of eyes around and within. Who do not rest day or night, saying: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!”    Revelation 4:6-8

This wondrous “Silence” which now fulfills all our words and thoughts and emotions,will forever lovingly envelop Mike, who as we know, was rarely at a loss for words. But you know what? I’m sure he is loving it!

Mike, as he would quickly tell you “that only by God’s grace,” was faithful in his days on earth. He, like Job, now sees and knows what Job confessed and hoped for in chapter 19:25 “For I know that my Redeemer lives, And He shall stand at last on the earth; 26 And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, 27 Whom I shall see for myself, And my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!”

Our dear friend and brother and husband and father and grandfather is now gazing upon God in the Face of Christ, who is Truth, Goodness, and Beauty incarnate, forever sustaining all things by the Word of His Power.

And gradually in ways which I realize we cannot understand or comprehend, Mike will begin his “heavenly ministry” (and it does not involve strumming a harp on a cloud.) This is the ministry of all faithful believers who have died and yet are alive in Christ (as Jesus says “who shall never die”). It is no less than entering into the One ministry of Christ’s mediation and intercession for each and every one of us . . . Mike is now joining the prayers of the Church Victorious which continually intercedes for us who are still fighting the good fight in the Church Militant.

              Dear Mike, pray for us, that we too may “endure to the end and be saved, we who, like Job, yearn to
see our wondrous Jesus face to face . . . and to live forever in his presence.”

And among us, dear friends, may Mike’s Memory and our love for him be eternal.

Randy Evans
December 17, 2020