One year ago this Friday, one of the most impactful people I’ve ever known passed away from unexpected heart failure and a city of two million erupted in fire. I learned of the Paris terrorist attacks as I walked numbly through Wheaton’s campus trying to process the death of Roger Lundin, which is why it took me a few minutes to realize that my sister was at that very moment on her way to see the Eiffel Tower. After getting hold of her and hearing that she was safe (albeit frightened) in her hotel room, I went home. Drained by the emotions of the day, I climbed into bed and stared up at the ceiling. It felt much darker inside me than out.
November 13, 2015 taught me how instantaneously a day can go from being inconspicuous to staggeringly memorable. I did not wake up that Friday morning expecting a beloved professor to pass away—particularly not three days after another professor in the department had passed away from cancer. As Paris reeled from the attacks and the rest of the world blamed each other for blaming each other, my own grief felt not trivialized but accentuated.
When I reflect on the year-long journey this day commemorates, I realize that November 13, 2015 also taught me something more lasting than grief: it taught me remembrance. With the death of Roger Lundin came the instant transformation of a word from being just a combination of letters to being emblematic of an entire person.
“῾The clover, remembered by the cow, is better than enameled Realms of notability,’” Roger Lundin would quote Emily Dickinson, and then chuckle as he told us the story of how a student corrected him in class with the observation that a cow remembers a clover by literally re-membering it, digesting it, thus opening for Roger a profound way of thinking about the gospel. “Christ remembers us,” he’d say as he sat atop his desk, a position from which he frequently taught. “A crucified and risen Christ is a Christ who re-members us, piecing us back together in his mercy.”
I think often about remembrance these days. I think about how a God who re-members means that you and I are capable of profound acts of love. It means that we are not limited to our longing—or perhaps, that our longing is itself a powerful act of love. It means that when I picture a six-foot-six professor lying on the classroom floor, covering his laughter with his hands because Mark Twain is just that much of a riot, or else reciting Emily Dickinson’s poem about Christ as the “Tender Pioneer” to a room of students aching to believe in such divine tenderness, I am not simply indulging in nostalgia; I am, in fact, participating in resurrection, resurrection that is a foretaste of what is to come.
As I write these words, I am listening to one of Roger Lundin’s old sermons, archived by his church from when he used to guest-speak. As much as I gratefully gather his words of wisdom, I find myself even more grateful for the audio itself, for the ability to hear the voice of someone who is no longer physically present. I’ve never realized so profoundly how you can hear a smile in a person’s voice. I replay certain sentences again and again, smiling at the smile.
“῾What’s lost is nothing to what’s found,’” he quotes in his sermon, and I pause my typing to let him speak: “And all the death that ever was, set next to life, would scarcely fill a cup.”