Cognac and the Communion of Saints
“Pastor, let’s go have a cigar and a cognac!” Bill said.
“But it’s the middle of the week and the middle of the day,” I protested.
“But I’ve got these great cigars” (from a country that shall remain unamed), he said with even more urgent temptation in his voice.
“OK,” I said, finally giving in, overcoming the vestiges of the pietist that lurked deep within my soul.
I will never forget that cognac. The tempter’s name was Bill. He was the most confessional member I had in a congregation of 2,500 members and one of the few. I had only been at the church a few years and had found myself called to a parish that had some conservative roots but also had a history of trying all the latest church growth fads. Bill was a rarity in the congregation in those days and a foundation upon which to build.
He upheld me at every step of the way in trying to remake that congregation into a confessional, God-pleasing parish. We made great headway but Bill never lived to see the final fruits of God’s efforts through us.
Bill died in a tragic car wreck a few weeks after that cognac. He was traveling on business a thousand miles away from our parish, and a thousand miles away from his wife and his children. The life-ending crash on a rain-slick highway occurred at night but it was not until 4 AM the next morning that his wife and then I were alerted to the tragedy. Bringing God’s word to that crushed family was one of the most difficult things I have ever done as a pastor.
The Lord was just beginning to use Bill to make a confessional difference in our parish and in the synod. He had just been elected to the Concordia Publishing House board of directors not long before his death. It made me wonder how effective I would be at continuing to lead the congregation towards a complete commitment to the Lutheran Confessions. I should not have worried. The Lord has since raised up ten-fold confessional leaders for the congregation to take Bill’s place.
Bill knew how to enjoy life. (He was also the one who got me to jump out of an airplane – that story will have to wait for another day.) He was truly free in Christ to enjoy all of God’s blessings of creation. His knowledge of beer was voluminous. I will never forget when he challenged a waitress at a local Mexican bar to bring him any one of their variety of beers to see if he could name it by taste. He named five in a row without a miss (and drank each one of them). Thankfully both he and I are blessed with wives willing to serve as designated drivers.
I will never forget that cognac. I haven’t had many since. I have had plenty of cigars with my confessional brethren but not many cognacs.
My friend Bill is enjoying the communion of saints and the feast for the ages in heaven now. I think of him often. As a matter of fact, it’s probably that cognac I had with him that gave rise to this feature on the BJS website. Here’s to you Bill. You would love what we’re doing now in your old parish. You would be a great brother of John the Steadfast. We will keep fighting the confessional fight until the day we join you in the great communion, and while we wait, we will enjoy every gift God has given us in creation, particularly cognac, beer and cigars.
Pastor Tim Rossow