I first met Timmy Bishop in January of 2004 when he and his parents, Tim and Jennifer, came to our house for a meal. Timmy was four at the time, and his father Tim was something of a new Calvinist looking for a Reformed-type church, so we invited them over to talk.
In the process of the conversation, Tim and Jennifer explained that Timmy had a rare nerve disease. This disease was causing his body to break down. At that time, Timmy could crawl and talk, and he had a small vocabulary, but over the course of the next six years, Timmy’s body started to deteriorate. He stopped talking and crawling. He also lost the ability to eat and needed a feeding tube. He lost his hearing and sight, and in 2008, he had surgery to remove one of his eyes.
That summer, we talked about Timmy’s life and his future death. We talked about his funeral and things that would take place when Timmy finished his course in this life. Tim and Jennifer also asked about the possibility of baptizing Timmy. I didn’t have a problem with it and thought it was an important decision. So on August 9, 2008, we had a baptismal service for Timmy at our church. It was a wonderful service, and it stands out as one of the most significant worship experiences of my own life.
Last Tuesday, April 13, 2010, around 3:15 pm, Timmy finished his course in this life. He was eleven years old. I was with Tim and Jennifer when Timmy died at the hospital, and although the grief was real and painful, it was very obvious that they had a hope beyond what others could see. Back in 2008, they had decided to stay with Timmy and his body until the end, so in the hospital, we explained to the nurses that we would wait until the funeral home arrived before we left. This came as a surprise to the nurses and some of the doctors. They thought this would be too hard on the parents. But with a quiet confidence, Tim and Jennifer explained that they had taken care of this little body for eleven years, through sickness and pain, and they were going to stay with him until he was transported to the funeral home.
Once the funeral home arrived, they followed the body out of the hospital until the funeral director left. The next day we met at the funeral home. They brought Timmy’s clothes and made the arrangements for the funeral, which was held at our church on Friday. Jennifer fixed Timmy’s clothes and hair, and the funeral home brought Timmy’s body to our church on Thursday afternoon, where he remained through the night. Tim and Jennifer had decided back in 2008 that they would also remain with the body that evening. During that time, they decided to cloth him with the baptismal robe we had used back in 2008. It was a special moment because that baptism defined Timmy and this moment more than his sickness or death. The funeral was Friday, April 16th, at 2:00 pm.
Why did Tim and Jennifer care for the body of their son, even after his spirit had departed? What was the point or reason for all of those decisions and actions? As Christians, we believe in the resurrection of the body, the body that was cared for in the hospital and at the funeral home and at our church. We believe that Timmy’s body, the body that was broken and weak because of his sickness, that body will be raised from the dead to a new life, with strong bones and strong muscles. Tim and Jennifer’s care for that body is a witness to the resurrection. As they walked down the hall of the hospital, they were witnessing to the resurrection. As they dressed him for the funeral, placing his baptismal robe on him, they were witnessing to the resurrection. And as we finished the ceremony and placed him in the tomb, we were witnessing to the resurrection. The tender care of that dead body was a witness to the resurrection at each step of this journey.
Timmy’s body is now resting until the day that Jesus returns and makes all things new. On that day, Jesus will wipe away the tears from Timmy’s eyes, and Jesus will wipe away the tears from his parents’ eyes. On that day, there will be no more pain or dying, for those things will have passed away. But until then, may God the Father, who created his body, may God the Son who by his blood redeemed his body, may God the Holy Spirit who by baptism sanctified his body to be His temple, keep his remains until the day of resurrection and provide hope for his parents to trust their Heavenly Father and be confident in the hope of the resurrection accomplished by Jesus Christ.