It was the always precise C.S. Lewis who urged in Till We Have Faces to “Die before you die, there is no chance after.” This briefest of Lewisian homilies reminds me of our Lord’s words in Luke 9: “For whoever tries to save his own life will destroy it, but whoever destroys his life on my account will save it.” This biblical and glorious paradox certainly underlined Lewis’ statement. Lewis had experienced the death of his mother at an early age. He saw the vast wrath of war as he lost close friends. When he wrote of death it was not merely a result of research but from a deep experiential pain. His book A Grief Observed is an apologetic for dealing with pain when those closest to you die. When his wife, Joy, died, he wrote: “Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.”
My family, and especially my wife, who knew Melanie Branch so well, grieve today. We grieve because someone whose life shone so brightly the Gospel of Jesus was removed from this earth. She no longer grieves, but we grieve in her absence.
Today I stood outside the chapel with many others because there was no more room in the chapel. Many had come to bid farewell to a life well lived. My dear brother and pastor Rusty Branch stood bravely and broken to eulogize his bride before the cloud of witnesses. He offered a parallel between the three virtues of classical Christianity, namely, truth, goodness, and beauty and their manifestations in the life of his bride. His bride of 15 years, offered in her 38 years of life, a Christian manifesto of truth in her search and determined hope to see others embrace a biblical vision for the education of their children. She left an astounding legacy. My family is a recipient of this investment she made in her life. In the name of truth, she died before she died. She sought truth not for self-aggrandizement, but self-giving.
This dear sister not only breathed truth into the life of others, but she also embraced goodness. She was good in the sense that she embodied the good. Anyone who knew Melanie–even from a few encounters–understood her lucid view of the good life. It was not replete with “work harder” banners, but with a sincere “God has been good to us” theology. It was rich, simple, and unfading. Melanie died before she died by showing that goodness is the art of bestowing a glorious image of our Lord to others in the midst of pain.
Most powerful were her husband’s point about her beauty. Though she was overwhelmed by the choking power of cancer, yet her love of the Triune God provided a life-filled, hope-saturated example of beauty. While her body slowly died, she sought after the beautiful. God’s image becomes even more sobering and precious as his saints begin to see the life to come through the eyes of faith. The beatific vision becomes clearer and the eternal glass that separates life and death become less distinguished. She embodied beauty in life and God robed her with his beauty in her death.
I did not know Melanie as well as many, but the multitudes who came to witness this lovely saint speaks more than words. They all shared similar stories of a woman who endured the unspeakable pain of seeing a disease overtake her little by little, but who died for others before she died.
May the God of all peace comfort her husband, Rusty, and her children, Emma Rae, Elizabeth, and Allen. Your wife and mother died well. She died before death. She was a faithful servant. Her job is done. She will die no more.