by James R. Gimbel
Grandma Timm died April 13, 1987. It was a shock, but then death somehow always is. Yet, in another way, it came as no surprise, for she had suffered for a long time, and there had been many close calls before. Her frail body had gone through a lot. I shall miss her, not as she had become–sickly, forgetful, irritable–but the way she used to be–full of life as she called out my name, made homemade doughnuts, took care of her house, or went on the short walk across the road to church.
I will not be going to the funeral. It is Holy Week, and my schedule is too tight with five different worship services to plan. My ministry is to the living, and she and Grandpa are both dead–or, rather, they have gone from this life to the next. The rest of the family can find comfort in God’s Word from her pastor.
As I remember my grandmother, one thing keeps running through my mind. April 14, 1987, marked the 75th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. To Grandma, and to me, this event was always fascinating. You see, Grandma, as a little girl, was supposed to have come with her family to America on that great ocean liner. Her family had passage all arranged, but they were stopped by the authorities upon boarding. One of Grandma’s brothers had become sick, and no one was allowed aboard who might carry disease into the New World.
Grandma vividly remembered the family’s disappointment. It shook them all up and placed doubts in their minds as to the wisdom of their whole move. But after her brother recovered, they found other passage and sailed safely to America. They soon discovered God’s blessing in the setback and change of plans. What a marvel to be alive aboard a lesser ship!
As a child, I used to ponder for hours on end how much this affected me and my family. If Grandma had gone down on the Titanic, then my Mom would be half of Grandpa and half of someone else. And if Mom were partly someone else, then I would be different, too. “What would I be like?” I used to ask myself. “How tall would I be? What color hair and eyes would I have? Would I be smart? Where would I live?”
Now, as I look back, the blessing of Grandma’s life being spared is still a powerful memory, but much of the wonderment has ceased. I’m not concerned anymore with questions regarding my “alter ego” or “potential” identity. But the death of Grandma so close to Titanic’s anniversary will always remind me of God’s goodness and faith.
God, for many reasons, spared my grandmother, and together with Grandpa she raised five children in the Christian faith. But there is more. Grandma, in a manner of speaking, was spared from drowning not once, but twice. Thanks to Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection, Grandma, through the waters of her baptism, received a new chance at eternal life.
For centuries, the Church has been thought of as the great ship that carries faithful Christians to their new home. Christian artists have painted many pictures with this theme. And Grandma experienced exactly that. She may have disembarked from the boat that brought her to American soil, but, thank God, she continued to be carried in the ark called the Church. And although the Church may often be caught in storms and seem about to sink, the crucified Christ rises and, with a word, calms the storm so that we may pass.
And now Grandma has passed on from this life to the next. The Great Captain has gently and peacefully taken her aboard for her last journey. The ark that’s her casket holds only the skin and bones, for Christ booked her passed years ago, and she’s right there with Him, even now.
Was her death in the 75th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking just a coincidence? Maybe. But God has used it to remind me of some very reassuring promises. Thanks, God for Grandma’s safe passage 75 years ago–and today!