Soren’s Remarks at John’s Memorial Service; January 12, 2020:
My name is Soren. I am John Geiger’s oldest child. Many members of the Geiger family are here today, including of course my mom and two siblings. (I would never tell my brother and sister that dad loved me the most, but, of his children, he did love me the longest, so … just connect the dots.) On behalf of his family, I thank you for being here today to remember God’s work in and through his son John and to rejoice with us that death has no victory over the children of God. You are all here because you loved John Geiger, and he loved you. He might have taught your children in class, or maybe he taught you. Perhaps he was someone you looked up to as a role model and mentor. Maybe he was one of your good friends — a brother. He was a father by blood to a few of us here, but a father-figure to many, many more.
For nearly twenty years he served as headmaster of Eastwood Christian School, where he taught many classes. One of them was Rhetoric. He relished the opportunity to instruct the young on how to craft a public address and deliver it effectively. And he was pretty good at it himself. We all here have been moved by John’s words. Most, perhaps all of us, have heard him deliver one of his talks on his Last Breath speaking tour. His message, delivered while looking death in the face, was powerful, even though, as the disease tightened its grip on his tongue and throat, he began to slip into what we called his J o h n W a y n e v o i c e.
I took his Rhetoric class at Eastwood, and in it he taught us that one of the key elements of an effective speech is the use of analogy to capture the attention of the audience, to develop the nuances of the topic, and to help your audience remember what you said. I have known for a long time that I wanted to speak at my father’s funeral, and I knew that I needed to come up with an analogy. But I did not know which one to use … until recently, when he told me what to use.
So, many of you here have run a marathon. More power to you. Most of us here, like myself, have only seen marathons on TV, or maybe from the side of the road. All of us, though, should be familiar with the kind of runner that stands out, the one that captures the attention of the crowd. Something has set this runner apart from the rest. Maybe he’s an underdog. Maybe he’s overcoming great personal adversity. Maybe he is setting records at each mile marker he passes. Whoever he is, all eyes are on him. His lungs are burning as he nears the home stretch. His legs are failing him as he hits and then breaks through the proverbial wall. The salt from his sweat is caking around his mouth. He has pushed himself to the limit. People start to run alongside him, hand him water, pat him on the back, and pump their fist as he pushes forward. As the finish line comes into sight, the crowd’s applause swells, and then it peaks when he crosses it.
That runner was my father during his final months and years. His body was failing him, but his spirit remained as strong as ever, it even became more determined. He was focused on the finish line and the prize that awaited him. He would not waiver from the course. And he was a crowd favorite. He captured our attention, and he inspired us. We saw him and said to ourselves, “That’s how you run the race.” And what else could we do but cheer him on, follow his example, and congratulate him on a race well run. Like Paul, he could say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” I shared this analogy with him two weeks ago, and he texted me, “Say that at my funeral.” Yes sir.
You may also remember the story of the first marathon. It took place in the year 490 BC in Greece. The Greeks had just defeated and repelled the invading Persians at the battlefield of Marathon, so they sent one of their soldiers, Pheidippides, to run twenty-six miles all the way back to Athens in order to proclaim to the Greeks waiting anxiously there the news of victory. He ran up to the city magistrates and, with his last breath, said, “Joy, we win.” The marathon my dad ran was a grueling one at the end, but that did not deter him from running hard, running straight, and running to proclaim with his last breath the joyous news that “we win.” Remember 1 Corinthians 15: “But thanks be to God! He gives us the VICTORY through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
Let me end by encouraging you with something my father shared with me after he learned that, due to his diminished lung capacity, he only had weeks to live. I asked him if he was scared. He said, “No,” but he wished his family did not have to see him suffer because he knew that what would follow would be hard. But then he reminded me that Jesus even allowed his own family and loved ones to watch him suffer and die. My father’s point was not to compare himself to Jesus, but to remind me that Jesus knows our pain; he knows our hurt; he loves us through it; and he promises that one day sin and death will be no more.
So let’s remember that we are all runners in this race. John just crossed the finish line before us, and he showed us how it’s done. Let us run this race with perseverance. Let’s stay on course. Let’s encourage one another, love one another, and proclaim with every breath, even our last breath, “We win.”
Dawn’s Remarks at John’s Graveside Service; January 14, 2020:
My family and I are overwhelmed with gratitude for the way you have loved us and the way you loved John. Thanks to each of you for joining us today as we commit John’s body to the grave. It may seem a little unusual for me to be standing here. But John and I talked a lot about this, and he wanted me to share some of these thoughts with you.
Look around you. This is a place of waiting. We are standing in a field of anticipation. After we leave, it will be a quiet, deserted field. But these markers all signify spots where bodies have been placed, many of them in anticipation of a coming event. There’s a marker here at our family plot. Decades ago they chose to carve verses from Titus into the monument — verses that point back to an event in the past and forward to an event in the future. On this side the verse says, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.” And on this side it says, “Waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” That message sits out here day after day silently testifying that these bodies are all waiting.
It’s interesting that we take care of our bodies when we die, of these shells that are left behind. After all, God tells us, “You are dust and to dust you will return.” Yet in the Bible we have stories of people who took time to care for the bodies of the dead. Jesus said that the woman with the alabaster flask had anointed his body beforehand for burial. Joseph of Arimethea asked if he could remove Jesus’ body from the cross and place it in his own tomb. And the three ladies went to the tomb with spices on Sunday morning only to find that there was no body there to care for.
One of my favorite comments about a body that gives us a little insight into this moment is the verse assigned to Joseph in Hebrews 11. This is the chapter that lists lots of Old Testament men and women of faith. It says things like,
“By faith Abel offered a more acceptable sacrifice.”
“By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death.”
“By faith Noah constructed an ark.”
“By faith Abraham, Isaac and Jacob . . .”
Most of these people had really important events recorded. But this is what it says about Joseph: “By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.”
But Joseph did way more than that. He could supernaturally interpret dreams; he saved a nation from a famine. But what gets recorded is that he made mention of his bones. By faith he believed in a future event, and he told them what to do with his body.
Joseph knew the story wasn’t finished. John’s story isn’t finished. In his now somewhat famous song “With My Last Breath,” he says,
Fearfully and wonderfully, I was made of Eden’s dirt.
To there I will return, but with no lasting hurt.
The kindness of God’s love is felt each wasting day.
Thanksgiving, praise, and hope is what I say.
John made mention of his bones. By faith he assured us that this is not the end of his story.
No lasting hurt. I like that. But there is a present hurt. While this cemetery represents anticipation in a coming event, it also represents separation. Again, look around you. That’s what we don’t like about cemeteries. They scream out separation — not only separation of body and soul which is unnatural, but separation from the people that we want to be around.
Our seventh graders at Eastwood read a book about a South American indigenous people who say that when someone dies, their language leaves them. I think that’s so insightful. We watched John’s language shift and change and dwindle down to a letter by letter form of communication, but it was with him to the end. He was an encourager with words to the end. But not now. His language has left him. Death has separated us.
So what does a family do when they are concerned about being separated? You’ve all done it. Whether you’re in Disneyworld or the fair or maybe even just Costco, you tell the children, “If we get separated, we’ll meet at such and such a place.” When I was a child, we would go to the fair and the designated meeting place was always the big cow. But we had a designated meeting place.
I was recently reading a book about Jesus’ last days on earth, and it points out that three times the disciples are told about their designated meeting place. Jesus, knowing separation was imminent, set up a meeting place in Galilee where they would receive their last orders. And he has done the same for us. In I Thessalonians Paul explains,
The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
Whenever I left my grandmother’s house, I’d say, “See you later. Mamaw.” And she’d say, “Here, there, or in the air.” Not sure where she heard it — and it’s kind of cheesy — but not inaccurate. We won’t meet John again here. If we die and enter the presence of Jesus we will meet him there. And if Jesus returns while we’re alive, then we’ll meet him as we are all caught up in the air and prepared for the new heavens and new earth. There’s both a comfort and a warning in that. The comfort is knowing that we will meet again; the warning is don’t face this certain separation without knowledge of the designated meeting place. Jesus is the designated meeting place.
Right now everyone here can think of someone they have been separated from. Their bodies may be in this cemetery or they may be somewhere else. We have John and my brother and grandparents and other family members here in this plot, but we have the body of our precious granddaughter, Ruby Mae, in a cemetery in Michigan. We are separated from them by a gulf we can’t cross no matter how much we want to.
Well, there’s a passage in Isaiah that assures us that this sadness and separation from the very young or the very old or the not-so-old is only temporary. What we feel today is unique to this moment in history, but one day separation will end. This is what God has said about that final designated meeting place:
For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days. Praise God. Come Lord Jesus.
So we’re all waiting. Those whose lives are marked by stone monuments all around us are waiting. Those of us standing around here today are waiting. Even the unborn are waiting. We know we may be separated from each other as we wait. So what do we do in the meantime?
Well, I think John told us that in his talks, in his song, in the way he lived and in the way he died. We will live by faith in a coming event — without fear — because we know the designated meeting place. One of John’s last texts to the family was “I am not scared. . . . God is in control.”
In 1749 Charles Wesley penned the hymn “Jesus the Name High Over All,” and I want to end with the final verse of that hymn because it tells us how to live and how to die and it sounds so much like John:
Happy if with my final breath
I may but gasp his name,
Preach him to all and cry in death,
Christ Jesus is the lamb!