Remarks Delivered at His Memorial
Trinity School, January 31, 2012
Peter T. Denton, Jr., Headmaster
Grieving may be the hardest work we are ever called to do. We are gathered here now to begin the long journey of mourning our son, our brother, our nephew, our cousin, our friend, our student, our classmate, our team member, Blake Hubbard. This work of grieving is a job for a lifetime, and we can barely make a start of it today. But let us begin.
The apostle Paul tells us Christians that we are not to grieve like those who have no hope. And he is right, of course—he always is. But that doesn’t stop me from wanting to grab him by the collar and say, “Come on, Paul. You might as well say that we Christians don’t breathe like those who have no hope.” Lament is universal. The image of Patty and Jeff, collapsed on the ground, undone by the unspeakable news, is archetypal. Jeff, you are Job to us now. Patty, you are Rachel, weeping and refusing to be comforted.
“Give ear to our words, O Lord. Listen to our groaning.”
The groaning of a father, deep groans that well up from the soul and will not stop. A father clutching his son’s tennis racket. They were supposed to play last Saturday afternoon. He will not play again, ever.
The groaning of a mother who never got to tell her son goodbye, whose whole life has been turned upside down and shaken out in one cruel weekend.
The groaning of a brother who can find no words to speak the unspeakable. The groaning of a sister who runs screaming at the horrible news.
We do not grieve today as those who have no hope, but we grieve.
He was a beautiful boy—we give his mother all the credit for that! No one will ever be beautiful quite like Blake. Why would God make such a fine human being and then take him away from us so soon? One of his teachers jested with him that she would like to pinch his cheeks. You would too. Even the paramedic, who cared for his body at the scene of the accident, saw this. She told Jeff and Patty, I can see that your son was a beautiful boy. Isaiah tells us, “All flesh is like grass, and its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, and the flowers fall.”
He was an innocent kind of child. His mother called him “a seven year old in a fourteen year old’s body”—smart as a whip, but a boy with no guile. He hoped all things and believed all things and went around smiling and bringing out the best in us all. Just read the comments his friends made on the tribute banner. Just listen to his parents, who say he was so selfless he never asked for much of anything.
His death is the death of innocence for many of us—for his friends who know for sure now that goodness is spoiled in this world, who will carry with them forever this hard memory, this empty place in their souls. It’s the death of innocence for this school too, which like Blake was still young until this weekend. Now we have been disabused of the notion that we can have a happy childhood together. This is the spoiling of Shalom. This is not the way it’s supposed to be.
So in the middle of our groaning, what does it mean for us to grieve in hope?
First, it means that we remember and we give thanks. Lord, he was yours. You made him. You will never make another like him. Praise to you, Lord God, for what you did when you created Blake Hubbard.
When we say that Blake was innocent, we are only half right. He presented as a shy boy. He was still skittish a bit about girls. His dad showed me a picture on his phone, one he took just a few weeks ago: What you see is his smile. Sweet is a weak word for it, but I cannot find another. It was the kind of smile that has roots somewhere deep in the soul and is just on the verge of blooming all over the face. Especially in the eyes. He was quiet, but it was a rascally quiet. How we will miss you, Blake, our quiet rascal. Ask any of his teachers. It was never anything serious, never anything malicious or mean, but somewhere beneath that smile was simmering a plot of some sort. Usually it was the sort of thing a teacher has to pinch herself hard so as not to laugh about, while she goes about correcting him. That apple didn’t fall far from the tree, did it?
He was a small one, and he loved small places. One of his teachers found him eating lunch behind two tables underneath the stairwell. If he couldn’t find a nook or a cranny to fold himself into, he made one.
And he took his time. He was a slow one—I don’t mean, intellectually slow. No, he was plenty bright. He was just plain slow. Jeff and Patty said the other day, in one of those rare respites that the grieving get from their hard, agonizing labor of sorrow—they laughed that finally Blake was in a place where no one would have to tell him to hurry up. He was the original Unhurried Child. Mrs. Whisenhunt remembers that last year, in eighth grade, Blake would still be eating his lunch well past lunch, past recess, and into fifth period class.
“Blake,” she said one day ,”You have all this time to eat lunch! Why does it take you so long to finish eating. “It’s CPM’s,” he said. “Chews Per Mouthful. I need more chews per mouthful than the average person.”
He loved his friends and his friends loved him. Listen to this, written on the butcher paper in the Upper School: “Blake, You were a great friend at all times. You always put me and everybody else in a good mood. I am super glad we got to spend so much time together last week. Love you, buddy.” He was planning to spend Saturday night with a friend sleeping over, and they were setting their alarms for 3 am, to get up and watch the Australian Open. And when he died, two of his friends were with him. Awful for them—and we must pray for these friends—but thank God that when our Blake died, he was not alone. One minute he was with his friend, the next second he saw a bright light and was with Jesus.
So let us give thanks to Almighty God for the life of Blake Hubbard. Like a beautiful song that we will never hear again. But the memory will never leave us. “Great are the works of the Lord. They are pondered by all who delight in them.” Psalm 111:12
But let us go back to Paul, to his exhortation: Do not grieve as those who have no hope.
Yesterday morning at 7 am, Jeff Hubbard knocked on my front door. I was shocked. The last time I had seen Jeff, I wasn’t sure he could walk across the room without collapsing. I think it was the first time he had been out of his sad, sad house since he returned in shock and grief on Saturday night. His brother Dale had driven him over because Jeff had something he wanted to say. And when Jeff has something to say, he figures out a way to say it. Right then and there.
“We are dying inside and we don’t know how we can go on, but we are going to be OK,” he said. “We have hope, and that hope is that Blake is with Jesus now. Please tell people that. Please tell them that Blake believed the good news about Jesus. The most important thing—his faith—is not something we have to worry about.” Patty, you showed me Blake’s Bible yesterday, the one where he had written “On February 2, 2006, I asked Jesus into my heart.” Jeff, you have always joked about being the last person who should have worked in a school, you who didn’t exactly take to school. Brother, you schooled me good yesterday: If anyone is in Christ, he is new creation. Alive. Present tense. With the Lord. Home. Safe. Waiting on us poor sinners whose labors are not yet done. Blessed forever. Indestructible. Blake Hubbard is so alive right now that if he grabbed a high voltage wire it wouldn’t even tickle him.
Jeff and Patty, we love you and we are praying for you and we are going to be with you. Grief is a long, steep climb. Jeff, when you came to see me yesterday, you showed me that you and Patty are people who grieve in hope. Alleluia! But it is still grief, and we will not deface the beauty of his life among us by throwing platitudes at you. The truth, however, is not a platitude, and set down this in your hearts forever: That the steady love of God in Christ, for you, is as sure today when Blake is gone as it was last week when he was here. May God grant you the grace to grieve right through this and never lose sight of this good news. We love you.
Blake had so many friends. Some of you friends are followers of Jesus, and some of you aren’t. His love for you all was the same. But his parents told me that he asked them, many times, how he could find ways to talk to you who don’t believe about Jesus. I think he felt like he didn’t do that very well.
He didn’t plan it this way, but God did. Friends, this might be Blake’s best chance to tell us all about his Jesus. I think he’s got our attention, don’t you? Are we listening? Think of how ardently we would yell at Blake now if we could and say, “Don’t grab that wire!” More ardently still does Blake’s death call out to us, “Grab ahold of Jesus!”
One of Blake’s favorite things to do was to go hear J.D. Greear, the pastor at Summit Church, preach. So today, he has come one last time to listen to J.D., and he brought with him about twelve hundred of his friends and family to hear the truth. Speak, O Lord, through your servant.