“He Was a Bright and Shining Light”

This is how I said it on Sunday:

“Whenever there is a death in the church family, we are saddened by the loss, but the loss of Jackson Ramsey is especially tragic because he was so young, because he lost his battle with despair, because he died at his own hand.”

That’s what we’ve been dealing with at Richmond’s First Baptist Church in the last few days–the suicide of a 16-year-old boy so full of life and joy we could hardly believe it.  I’ve just come from his memorial service, where more than a thousand people gathered, most of them young people who had come to remember their friend and classmate Jackson.

Some wonderful stories were shared, stories that made us laugh out loud and remember this “jolly giant” (as his sister called him), stories about his big smile, and strong hugs, and crazy dancing.  Some powerful words were shared, words that helped us find God’s presence in the midst of our grief, and offer back to God the gift that Jackson was. 

As Jesus once said about John the Baptist, “He was a bright and shining light” (John 5:35).

In the end I said, “Before we leave this place let’s make a solemn promise to weep all the tears we have in us to weep, because that’s how you get the grief out; to give and receive all the hugs we can, because that’s how broken hearts are mended; to give away all the love we have to give, because that’s the only way we’ll get it back again; and to pray all the prayers we have in us to pray, because that’s how hope is restored.  Finally, to put the matters of life and death into God’s hands and to leave them there, because that’s where they belong.”  And although I didn’t say it out loud I was thinking it as I left the pulpit:

“So that we never again have to gather for this reason.”

3 thoughts on ““He Was a Bright and Shining Light”

  1. The last time I remember that many folks at a memorial service in that sanctuary was for Dr. Adams, and although I didn’t know Jackson before, except as one of our “loved young ones,” afterwards I felt I did. Goodbyes are never easy, but some are harder than others, and this one certainly reminded us all of how fragile life is, even in the midst of sunshine and joy. It showed us something of how unaware we can be of what others are experiencing, even when they are ostensibly just going merrily along. Making sense of such loss rarely happens (“seeing through the glass darkly”), but I find some peace in God’s promise to walk with us through the darkness toward the light, and feeling the love that surrounds us always.

  2. Dear Pastor Somerville,
    My name is Chip Hardy. We have not yet had the pleasure of meeting and I am not a member at First Baptist Church. However I have been reading your blog as well as other information on the FBC website and I have many friends and connections there at FBC. I wanted to comment on this particular piece “He was a bright and shinning light” because your words regarding this tragic event really moved me. I did not know this young man. I heard of his death on Saturday afternoon at the Virginia Baptist All-State Choir concert. My son participated in this concert. We were all very sad to hear of this tragedy. My heart goes out to his family and friends. I will certainly keep them in prayer. Please know that I will also be praying for the members of FBC during this time and I will be praying for the FBC staff who will be ministering to those who are grieving, and most likely grieving themselves. May God bless all of you.
    Chip Hardy
    Director of Christian Education
    Youth and Children’s Minister
    Oakland Baptist Church
    Gum Spring, VA

  3. I find it so very difficult to wrap my heart and head around such a tragedy – I simply cannot imagine. I do not know this family, but I continue to pray for them.

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