"A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of one's birth." The first part of this verse from Ecclesiastes 7:1 resonates with most of us; the second part is harder to swallow. This morning we received news that cancer has claimed the life of Mr. Steve Swanson, vocal music teacher, outstanding musician and devoted follower of Jesus Christ. We thought he had been suffering from the flu a few weeks ago when he had to discontinue conducting the pit band at Panama's production of "The Wizard of Oz," when it was really the effects of the cancer that no one knew he had. Full of vibrant energy, a quick smile, and always ready to praise his Panama kids, his like is not likely to come our way again. Loved by his students, respected by his colleagues, he had, as the Scripture says, a good name.
But what do we make of the second half of our text? How is it possible to say that the day of is death is better than the day of his birth? Had he been old and full of years, feeling the ravages of time, we might better be able to agree, but he was middle aged, with so much to offer, taken in his prime. Statements such as this make little sense. Unless we read them from the perspective of faith. For those of us bereft of Swanny's (as his kids called him) gifts and character, there is nothing good about this day. But he was a believer, a Christian. A few days ago, my son visited him in the hospital. Steve said to him, "I have a big God," then pausing for a moment, added, "but I also have a big problem." Today, his problems are over. He stands in the presence of his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. For him, the day of his death is greater than the day of his birth. The former ushered him into a world filled with things like cancer. The latter ushered him into a world where every tear shall be wiped away, where sickness and sorrow are no more. The skeptic would say that we are just attempting to make a bad situation seem better than it is, and when we deal with matters of faith, it is hard to prove otherwise, but this we believe, that " to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord." (2 Corinthians 5:8).
I cannot say we were close friends. I knew him, but more as an acquaintance whose character and skill as a teacher impacted my granddaughters, and as a musician who used his considerable talents as a worship leader. Even in this somewhat casual way, he made his mark. I was privileged to know him, be often blessed by him; am saddened by his passing, but grateful to have been a recipient of his skills and faithfulness. Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Lord.