Our only comfort in life and death

Faith & Inspiration
by Anthony Bradley
Posted on Wednesday, February 23, 2011, at 4:11 pm

On Feb. 9, my 85-year-old aunt went to be with the Lord. As the oldest sibling in a family of eight children, Elizabeth Durant Swinson was affectionately known as "sister." The nieces and nephews called her "Aunt Sister." When I heard the news of her passing I was immediately struck by all of things she experienced from 1925 to 2011.

My aunt was born into a Jim Crow-ruled Goldsboro, N.C. My grandfather was a bricklayer and my grandmother, like many black women of that era, performed domestic work for white families. My aunt experienced her fair share of racial slurs by God-fearing whites in North Carolina over the years as well as the humiliation of having to drink from "colored" water fountains and being served from the rear of restaurants. Even against these odds she managed to graduate from college with a Bachelor of Science degree in education and had a 35-year teaching career in the very community in which she was raised.

A life-long member of the Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church, my aunt's faith in Christ and His church was so vital in being able to deal with the challenges of the Great Depression, social racism, the turmoil of the Civil Rights Movement, and the normal struggles of life that come with 56 years of marriage. I was almost brought to tears looking at the faces of her friends at the funeral who simply looked tired, and rightly so. Theirs is a generation that suffered greatly to open doors and create opportunities for blacks like me to accomplish things in America that my great-grandparents would not have thought possible. Moreover, I am sure my aunt never would have imagined as a child that United States of America would, in her lifetime, have a president who is not white.

Regrettably, I missed the opportunity to ask her directly about her thoughts on all the technological advances she had seen in America since the 1920s. Indoor plumbing, air-conditioning, landing on the moon, home computers, microwaves, the internet, cell phones, and the like are all things that could not have been in the imagination of 5-year-old in 1930.

Although the funeral was difficult, my family was able to celebrate God's faithfulness to my aunt and His covenant faithfulness throughout the generations of our family. I had the privilege of speaking at the funeral where I reminded the audience, from the Heidelberg Catechism (see below), that in this life of laughter and tears the only comfort for Christians is the knowledge that we belong to the Triune God. Looking back at Aunt Sister's life it was good to see an 85-year-old witness to that truth.

From the Heidelberg Catechism:

Question 1. What is thy only comfort in life and death?

Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.

Anthony Bradley

Anthony is associate professor of religious studies at The King's College in New York and a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.

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