Several times I had the privilege and pleasure of hearing the Rev. Charles Curtis speak those words to me. “Well done!” They came with a warm handshake, a bright smile, a twinkle in the eye. They came about a sermon, a prayer, or some study or worship experience I led. Over the past few years, as I have served as Associate Pastor at West Heights, Charles and his beloved wife Betty have become dear friends and encouragers to my wife and I, showing us what it means to be in ministry together. Over time, I learned to hear the nuance between this response and a subtly different “fine job” – and once had the honor of receiving a more detailed critique and suggestion on how I might better use my talents to be an effective preacher. Charles’ face was different on that day – more focused, and serious – and yet still filled with joy and encouragement.
In Matthew 25, at the end of the parable of the talents, is a well known verse. I want to share a couple translations. First the NRSV
His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”
Now the NIV
“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
I treasure the nuances of language that these translations are trying to make intelligible to English speakers. The servant has been “trustworthy” and “faithful” which results in a new opportunity for more responsibility. And the last line – “share your master’s happiness” is also “enter into the joy…” What a powerful image – joy as a space to be entered, an emotion, an idea that takes on an almost physical presence!
Death is always difficult, and yet it can also be filled with joy, especially when it comes at the end of a long life so well lived. One of the reasons I am in ministry now was walking this journey with my grandparents, and particularly my paternal grandmother. One of the things she taught me is that “we are all dying, some of us just know of what, and perhaps when.” Charles courageously walked a journey of physical decline for a long time, and faced diagnosis of a more certain end with courage, faith, even joy. He and Betty, family and friends shared stories and laughter. They have asked me to pray at the memorial service we’ll hold Saturday – once more affirming my own journey of ministry. One more “well done.” I’m deeply honored to participate, especially when so many others knew him so much longer.
While I am a pastor, I don’t pretend to know what happens after we die. I’m quite comfortable with images of returning to God, “in whom we live and move and have our being,” in ways that resemble more the theories of quantum physics than traditional Renessaince era paintings or a “harps and clouds” heaven – but I am quite confident that somehow, somewhere, Rev. Charles Curtis has heard the words “Well done, good and faithful servant… enter into the joy of your master!”
I am also quite sure that Charles spirit and joy will remain with us in tangible ways, even as he is no longer physically with us. As Cindy said in her reflection, his life and his memory are indeed a blessing. I am sure of this in part because of other clergy mentors who have briefly crossed my path – I think this day especially of Rev. Howard West and Rev. Terry Murray among others – and how their journeys continue to encourage my own. We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses. I pray my own life and ministry witnesses to the reality of the risen Christ so well as theirs did before me.
Godspeed Charles. We mourn our loss and we celebrate your life, remembering, as Bishop Rueben Job teaches, that “a sunset, seen from the other side, is a sunrise!”