“God’s grace is like the ocean. So broad, so deep, so overwhelming, translucent.”
“God’s grace is like . . . is like the largest, most rugged mountain you’ve ever seen. It stretches up to the sky. Nothing can move it. The majesty of it fills you with peace that passes understanding. Nothing can stop it, nothing can break it. God’s mountain of grace simply stands guard over you, protecting you.”
Richey Craig, January 2, 2017
“Our Last Conversation,” Memorial service for Ritchey Craig, Saturday, January 29, 2017
Dear Friends and Family,
There is no doubt that Ritchey leaves behind him a large empty space. The size of that space is directly proportional to how much we loved him ~ husband, brother, father, grandfather, brother-in-the-Lord, friend. And while the Lord can fill us with Himself and give us peace and strength in this time, He cannot fill the space that Ritchey left behind. For love created that Ritchey-shaped space in our hearts.
In spite of the loss to us in Ritchey’s Home-going, we are comforted by the fact that he is now free of pain and a broken body, resting in the presence of Jesus. I know he is, because when I visited him on January 4, he had already begun to taste Heaven. To see glimpses of heavenly scenes.
It was a Wednesday afternoon, that January 4. I arrived not knowing what to expect. Friends had told me that Ritchey’s speech had become hard to understand. Lynn graciously opened the door and led me into the house. Mark was sitting at the dining room table, working on his laptop, close at hand. Ritchey was in his bed in the living room. I greeted him and sat beside his bed. Lynn and I chatted for a few minutes, and then she excused herself. The silence was deep, but not at all awkward. I tried to think of something to say, but felt at peace simply sitting there.
I thought back to some of the many times I had listened to Ritchey play the piano – that seems like such an understatement — the way Ritchey played with piano keys. On one occasion . . .
. . .he asked us to imagine we were walking down the hallway of a Sunday School building, moving passed different meeting rooms, each group singing a different hymn or chorus. “This is what it would sound like,” and then he began playing an old familiar hymn. Halfway through the first verse, other notes began interrupting the melody, growing louder and louder, until two different songs were being played simultaneously, and then the first hymn would fade, as the second took its place, and then as the first died away, a third would begin and compete with the second, and so on down the hallway of our imaginations. I thought of another time when Ritchey said, “You remember those old upright pianos in Sunday School classrooms, the ones that had been abused by kids for so long they had lost some of their notes? Here’s how “Amazing Grace” would sound if the C, F, and A keys were missing.” And then he would play the hymn, never touching those three keys. There are a hundred memories like that.
It had only been a minute since Lynn had excused herself and left us alone. Ritchey turned his face toward me and began to speak. His voice was strong enough to hear easily, and his speech, while slow and thoughtful, was clear.
“I’ve been laying here with little else to do but think about God’s grace.” He brought his hands out from under the covers. He slowly reached up with his right hand to touch a tear that had formed in the corner of his eye. “I wish I could explain to you how great God’s grace is. We have no idea until we come to a place like this just how much God loves us, how much his grace covers us.” He was speaking in measured tones. He was struggling to explain to me something he had no words for. He was in no way delusional or irrational. He was, in fact, quite lucid, working hard to convey something important to me.
His hand swept slowly to the left and then to the right, as if he were looking at something vast and far away. “God’s grace is like the ocean. So broad, so deep, so overwhelming, translucent.” He paused, looking at the ocean of grace. “God’s light sparkles on the surface, reflecting so many colors, so many . . . colors.” He paused again and just took in the multi-colored ocean of grace.
I felt no need to interrupt what was obviously an experience of worship, and began to worship myself. We were on holy ground and sharing something quite significant.
And then his hand began to move upward and away from him. “God’s grace is like . . . is like the largest, most rugged mountain you’ve ever seen. It stretches up to the sky. Nothing can move it. The majesty of it fills you with peace that passes understanding. Nothing can stop it, nothing can break it. God’s mountain of grace simply stands guard over you, protecting you.”
He looked over to me again and pointed at me. “This is what I want you to say at my service. I want to tell the people who come how great God’s grace is.”
The contrast was stark. A man, confined to a bed, knowing that death is coming, the darkness of death approaching day by day, and yet here he is, basking in the glory of God’s grace? How does that happen? The apostle Paul speaks of this to the Colossian church
Col 1:27 (Message)
“God wanted everyone, not just Jews, to know this rich and glorious secret inside and out, regardless of their background, regardless of their religious standing. The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you, therefore you can look forward to sharing in God’s glory. It’s that simple. That is the substance of our Message.”
The KJV and NIV both use the phrase, “Christ in you, the hope [the confident expectation] of glory.”
The grace that Ritchey and Lynn have experienced ever since inviting Christ into their lives, they have experienced all the more in these last years, and especially the last few months. That mountain of grace gave Ritchey something tangible to look forward to, and it filled him with hope, which resulted in deep and abiding joy, in spite of the pain.
Timothy Keller writes in his book Making sense of God,
So what is Christian hope, which not only explains why we feel death is so unnatural but also gives us the ability to face and even triumph over it?
“The book of Genesis explains that Death was not part of God’s original design. We were not created to age, weaken, fade, and die. We were not created for love relationships that end in death. Death is an intrusion, a result of sin and our human race’s turning away from God.
That is why Jesus’ death destroys the power of death. Acts 2:24 says, “God raised him from the dead . . . because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” Put another way, the darkness of death swallowed Jesus, he entered it, but then he blew a hole out the back of it. It had no right to him, because he was innocent. Now, however, it also has no ultimate right to those who by faith rest in him (1 Thess 4:13-18). He has paid for our sins. We may physically die, but death now becomes only an entryway to eternal life with him. In other words, all death can do to Christians is to make their lives infinitely better.
Keller concludes his chapter this way. . . .
“Most religious systems teach an afterlife, but ordinarily it is conditioned on your living a morally good and religiously observant life. Christianity on the contrary offers salvation as a gift. It does not belong to good people but to people who will admit that they are not good enough and that they need a savior. And so Christians do not approach death uncertain whether they will be found worthy of eternal life. They believe in Jesus, who alone has a record worthy of eternal life, and they are secure in him. . . .
“And how can we be sure that faith in Christ will usher us into this future? One ground of assurance is the Resurrection of Christ himself, the historical evidence for which is formidable. Another ground of our hope is the foretaste of the future we get now, as we receive intoxicating if fleeting experiences of God’s love through prayer. . . .
“These are the reasons that from his prison cell, awaiting execution for plotting against Hitler, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was able to call the death of a Christian “the supreme festival on the road to freedom.” Likewise, fifty years earlier an American minister wrote his own epitaph: “Some day you will read in the papers that D. L. Moody is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. At that moment I will be more alive than I am now.
“This is no fist of defiance, shaken at the unending darkness. This is hearing Christ say, as he did to the thief on the cross when all seemed lost, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk 23:43). There is a joy that sorrow can only enrich and deepen until it completely gives way to it. This is hope indeed.”
Ritchey lived in that kind of hope. He was looking forward, pressing forward towards multi-colored translucent oceans and majestic mountains, even as his body failed him.
He and Lynn were quite clear in several conversations that they wanted everyone who attended this service to hear about the Gospel that pours out this Grace into our lives. Here it is . . .
* We have all fallen short of the glory of God. Though we all know people who behave worse than we do, we all know that we have missed God’s target, achieved less than his standard demands.
* There is One and One Alone who hit the mark, who achieved God’s standard, and then gave his perfect life in our place, dying so we might live.
* The connection to this One Who died so we might live is faith. Giving up the lordship of our own lives, focusing our minds on Him and His ways rather than our own broken attempts to be good, and inviting him to be our Savior and Lord opens to any of us, regardless of age, gender, education, wealth, race or background, this new life.
* Living in this connection, this union, with Christ pours God’s own eternal life into us, so that we have power to live here on earth fully, and then, enter into his presence in ways we can only imagine now, in ways Ritchey began to see a few weeks ago as he began the transition from here to there.
Ritchey’s hand was moving again, upward. This time he made a fist and extended his index finger, which he began to point at the ceiling. “Jesus is the source of grace in my life. He has never failed me. The more I learn from Him, the more I love Him. He has been giving me glimpses of His glory. I sometimes see myself in bright and vivid images, sitting at his feet, listening to Him explain to me things no one else ever could.” He continued to point toward Jesus, looking intently upward, caught momentarily between this world and the next.
He turned again to face me, and said, “And that’s another thing I want you to say at my service. I want you to honor my Dad.” Ritchey’s Dad had quite a reputation for drinking in their community, but the whole church celebrated when Mr. Craig gave his life to Christ. The difference was, as Ritchey described it, like night and day. His father became a respected member of the community, a pillar in their church, and led many others to faith in Christ. “The grace of God turned him around, and if God can change him like He did, then He can change anybody, even me. And He did that too.”
An hour had passed, but God’s timing was perfect. Just as I began thinking I needed to leave and let Ritchey rest, Lynn rejoined us. We had prayer together and she saw me to the door.
Ritchey’s last words, as many of you know from an email sent by Lynn, were spoken on Monday, January 16. A visitor had asked him how he was doing, and he responded, simply, “I’m blessed.”
But this was not his last communication. The next day, Tuesday, Barb and I dropped in for a short visit. We made our way to Ritchey’s bed. Lynn leaned down and told him we were here. Ritchey looked up at Barb and flashed a big smile. Then he looked over at me. He lifted his hand, fingers folded, index finger extended, and slowly pointed to heaven. Message received.
Ritchey passed away last Sunday morning, 8:17 am, but in the words of D. L. Moody, he is more alive now than he ever was.
Lynn, you have been a tower of strength for Ritchey and the family. You have been a great blessing to them and to us as you have taught us what it really means to dance in the rain. I hope these words have been a comfort for you, both now and in the days ahead. God will certainly take care of you and your family as you depend on him.
Let’s pray together.
We thank you for the life and gifts of Ritchey Craig. We thank you for his surrender of those gifts to you for use in ministry and evangelism across this great nation. Only you know how many lives he touched through his worship music.
We thank You for Your grace, made tangible in these last years as Lynn and Ritchey have depended on you. We pray your blessings on Lynn, and Mark and Alan, and the family. Continue to wrap them in your grace, as they walk with you.
And Lord, we ask You to bless all of these who have come today. Comfort them with the knowledge that Ritchey is at peace, fully healed, with You, even as You gave him eyes to see beforehand.
And if anyone here does not know You, we pray Your grace will touch them and draw them to some one who can explain this great and glorious Gospel to them. May they find you, Lord, and discover for themselves the ocean of grace You offer to all who call on Your name.
For we ask these things in your name, even Jesus,