My grandfather, William Lawrence Bates, whose life we are all gathered here today to celebrate, and I had a very close relationship. We were probably as close as a grandchild and grandparent can be. It was a relationship born of pure love that grew in depth and complexity over the past 34 years, just a small portion of his long life. In the last few years, our relationship became even more intimate, as my grandfather required more help with specific tasks, though he rarely asked for it, I was often there to observe the struggles and offer my assistance. It brought me much joy to be able to offer back to him just a small portion of the care and love he has showered on me.
I recognize the origin of our relationship in today’s readings of scripture, for it is the love of God in its various forms that have formed and fed the relationship between my grandfather and me. We share in the relationship that Paul describes in his letter to the Romans, a relationship in which we can call out, “Abba! Father!” and be heard no matter the time, the distance, or the obstacle. For not even death can separate us from the love of God. It is this kind of love that I feel today in this space surrounded by all who were loved by and in return loved Bill. The love of my grandfather is present today; it did not end on April 24th but continues, just as God’s love continues day in and day out for each of us, his children.
Jesus conquered death on the cross for all of us, so that we alongside him may inherit our place in God’s heavenly kingdom as God’s children. And we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit to abide in us, to walk with us and to carry our prayers of praise, petition, intercession, and thanksgiving to God. The only begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ started his prayer with Abba! Father! and it is how he taught us also to pray, saying Our Father. And this is the last prayer that my grandfather said out loud, as Fr. Eliacin administered the prayers before death. As family surrounded him in prayer, he joined in as we said: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.” Our cries of “Abba! Father!” will not go unanswered.
In today’s gospel, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own, and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” Bill Bates knew the voice of Jesus, and he followed his voice in daily life. He extended a helping hand to those in need whether it was popular or not. He helped feed the poor, clothe the naked and made sure those who had been in jail had a job when they were released. Bill and Barbara always had an open door for visitors whether friend or stranger.
Bill Bates not only heard and followed the voice of Jesus, but he also amplified it. He helped to humbly lead others along the path to green pastures and still waters, with Jesus as his guide. Grandpa showed the love of God to others through his love of his wife, his family, his community and for God’s beautiful creation. It is evident by those in this room that Bill was a lover of people, I have heard story after story this past week of people he has helped shepherd in life or career. I’m not saying that my grandfather was perfect, but he worked hard every day to make this world better, to bring the kingdom of heaven closer. He followed Jesus in bringing love where there was hate, peace where there was evil, light where there was darkness and reconciliation where there was discord. We would all do well to follow his example.
When we were choosing the readings for today’s service, it’s not a surprise that the passage from Job caught our ear, with Job’s cry of:
O that my words were written down!
O that they were inscribed in a book!
O that with an iron pen and with lead they were engraved on a rock forever!
But Job’s words which he pleads to have recorded are not the joyful, rhyming couplet words of Bill Bates that have filled holiday newsletters, editorials, and books. Job is lamenting to his friends and to his God who seem to have all abandoned him in grief, despair, and agony. Job has no hope of his friends returning to his side, for fear that his troubles would affect them. Job remains faithful throughout the tests and tribulations; he keeps hoping if not believing that before the end, God will return to his side. I know that my grandfather too faced times of trial and tribulation during his 96 years of life, but he like Job remained faithful.
I believe my grandpa, like the psalmist, has proclaimed through word and deed his belief that God remains close.
Publisher’s Note: In 1975 Bill Bates and his business partner, Don Wlazlak, gave me my first post college job opportunity as an advertising sales rep for the Snohomish Tribune. They took a chance on me and then mentored me in ways that I’ll never forget. I was grateful then and, more recently, I was grateful to have a few “reunion lunches” together. Bill passed away on April 24th, 2018. He was 96.
Sara Bates delivered this eulogy for her grandfather and submitted it for use by The Grandpa Project. Sara resides in Seattle, Washington
Here’s a story about a war hero grandpa.