This isn’t going to be a letter about writing. This letter is going to be a tribute to my dear friend Father Thomas McKenzie. He died yesterday, along with his daughter Ella, in a car accident.
Thomas was an Anglican priest, the rector of Church of the Redeemer in Nashville. Church of the Redeemer is not a megachurch, nor did Thomas aspire to be a megachurch pastor—not to my knowledge, anyway. Instead, he tended to the business of a local pastor. Week in and week out, he told the truest story, and he tended to the people who had been entrusted to his care.
Thomas was an incredibly gifted communicator. Our mutual friend Russ Ramsey remarked that Thomas “preached clear 15 minute sermons, without notes, which he worked out by taking walks and thinking and talking them through.” I love the simplicity of that formulation. I would add a couple of observations. One is that Thomas was just a natural raconteur. You may remember his story about accidentally blowing up a gas station when he was a teenager. But more importantly, Thomas communicated the gospel of Jesus so clearly because he so thoroughly believed it. His faith made him a man of conviction and moral courage and moral clarity. At the same time, that faith grew in him a generosity of spirit and kindness and open-heartedness. He could be hard on purveyors of false gospels. But I never knew him to snuff out a smoldering wick or to break a bruised reed.
Last night I listened to Thomas’s Easter sermon from 2017, “The End of Death.” I commend it to you. It seems especially relevant today.
What Jesus shows us in his resurrection—not just tells us, but shows us—is that death does not have the last word. Life has the last word. Life is victorious over the grave. That life that is victorious over the grave is for everyone. The Bible makes it very clear: everyone will be resurrected because of what Jesus did.
The question is not whether you will be resurrected. The question is what’s going to happen after you’re resurrected. Are you going to be resurrected into a relationship with God and other people? Are you going to be resurrected into a society of eating and drinking and art and music and dancing and all the wonderful things that come with being alive? Or are you going to be resurrected into selfishness and into being alone, and having a relationship with no one? … That should not surprise any of us, because that’s the question of life in general.
As I get older, I’m less and less concerned about my own death. My own death, at this point, makes me a little queasy, but not nearly as queasy as it used to make me…I am more concerned with living a meaningless life. That to me sounds scarier than dying.
Father Thomas McKenzie lived a meaningful life. As strange as it sounds, Twitter has been a huge comfort to me over the last twenty-four hours, as the tributes to Thomas have poured in, and I have learned things I didn’t know about how meaningful his life was. Here’s a sampling:
“I always knew I could count on him for an honest answer, free of judgment.”
[From another Anglican pastor]: “Thomas McKenzie was the best of us. He was all I hoped out tradition could be—faithful, courageous, and generous orthodoxy.”
“That man saved me from losing my faith in Jesus and my hope in true family for kingdom singles.”
“The faith I have has been fragile for years, but he was a source of much encouragement and life.
“Thy kingdom come,” we pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” When we tell the truest story, as Thomas did, we participate in the coming of the kingdom. These things are a mystery.
If you pray, will you pray for Thomas’s wife Laura and his surviving daughter Sophie, and for Church of the Redeemer?