Come Holy Spirit. Fill us with your healing and saving grace in the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen. Please be seated.
Mrs. Powell, Anne Marie, Linda, Michael, your children and all the family, today, today we stand in solidarity with you before the mystery of life and death. And say in our prayers and farewell to Colin Luther Powell. Son, loving husband, devoted father, grandfather, friend, soldier, counselor to presidents, senior statesman, man of peace, child of God. I pray you will feel us holding you up in this time, but most importantly, the loving arms of God around you all. And I hope that also in this brief span of time, in memory and honor of your beloved Colin, we may know ourselves more united as Americans.
The measure of Colin Powell’s life, this good and great man, is more than any one person can fully take in or tell. These heartfelt, moving, and poignant distributes took us a long way. And so, your presence here today, as you stand with this family, all of you, your memories, indeed even the person you are, is now a part of that larger mosaic that tells of the life of Colin Powell. The love and years you shared as family are forever with you, imprinted deep within your hearts. And the impact of Colin’s life on you, his friends, colleagues, and this nation, reveals the fullest picture that we can have. You know the ways he formed and influenced you, whether up close or through historical events. This man had a discernible gift to project gravitas, warmth, and goodness, which called us all to our better selves. To strive for the good and the just, to face fully into duty and with integrity, resolve in benevolence to carry it out.
You all have memories of Colin Powell in heart and mind, treasure and share them. But most importantly, place them before God in gratitude. Before God, who created the wonder and mystery of all creation, gave you the last breath you drew, and who gave Colin life from the first and receives it back again. The great 20th century rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was once asked, “What is the most important thing a religious person can do?” His answer was given in one word, “Remember.” That is what we do this day. It is what we do as religious people every time we gather. We hear again and again, the sacred stories of encountering God, ancient and cherished. Stories about God as ineffable mystery yet still revealed to our fragile and mortal humanity. We remember God’s saving love for the human race, and in that act of remembering together, the God of life and giver of every good gift, is present to us just as in this moment. This God is the one who raised up and delivered Israel out of bondage in Egypt, fulfilling ancient promises, and who raised Jesus from the dead into resurrection life. Colin knew this God through all his years. His faith was of first importance, and his life was marked by those words of the prophet Micah, “He has showed you, O man, what is good. To do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
The God who gathers and comforts us this day is a God of justice and mercy, who seeks to lift up all who seek him. Those who grieve, the lost, weary, forgotten, the vulnerable and poor, and all on the margins of life. And God wants you to know, in every circumstance of life, that you are beloved, whoever you are, whatever you are, whatever you’ve done, God looks at you today and He loves you. This is the God we know. Who loves fiercely, who traffics in life and death, and is known in every dimension of life, even in the crosscurrents of the emotions we experience today. In speaking with many people in these last weeks, as Colin Powell’s life was remembered, there was at the beginning of most of those conversations, just the slightest of pauses, sort of a recalibrating of the mind and the heart, and a realization that we were now talking about a member of the family. Respected, admired, and loved. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice captured this in a recent remembrance, writing, “Colin loved soldiers and always held them to the highest standards. Yet he also took time to understand their struggles—personal and professional—and to comfort them when they suffered. The military was his second family, and he cherished the opportunities that it had given him and others.” Do you hear what is at the heart of this? This might seem unusual or new to you, but those who served together in the profession of arms, especially when in harm’s way, come to know that there is a component of love in that bond. And one that you actually depend on. I discovered this personally in 2005 and 6, deploying into the Persian Gulf as an army chaplain. General Colin Powell was the epitome of this reality and truth.
Recently, a dear friend, Eric Motley, a younger African-American man who grew up as a young boy in Madison Park, Alabama, on land that had been seated to the ancestors of slaves, shared this memory with me, “When I was in high school, my grandmother gave me a photo of General Powell, adorned with a chest full of metals, prompting me, ‘You need not look far for your own hero.’ I carried that photo all through school and have it to this day.” After reading General Powell’s book ‘My American Journey’ in college, Eric said, “For the first time in my life, I found myself and all I wanted to be. And all these years later, I still do my best to imitate the man himself, trying to make my life journey as good and honorable and centered on service. I have held a light to his life, and it has been a true affirmation of faith.” I’ve often wondered how many young men, and especially young Black men, were given that book accompanied by the same admonition, “You need not look far for a hero.”
There are many loves we recount this day, and all the tributes we’ve heard, and the ones that are deep in your hearts as beloved wife, children, family, friends, those in the profession of arms, colleagues, and untold numbers of men and women across our nation, many loves. But I am here to speak with you about an even greater love. We are here today because of a person. And that person is the man in the glory, Jesus Christ. In him, the greatest love ever known was given to the world. We know this most supremely in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, climaxing on that first Easter morning. Each gospel varies in telling of those last days of his life, providing both a veracity and a stereoscopic truth unparalleled in all of literature. In his last hours, as Jesus was tried, mocked, beaten, humiliated, crucified, and spiked to his cross, he took into himself all the sins of humanity, past, present, and future. His closest disciples fled in fear to hiding, but finally strong women came to his tomb. There God had acted, a cosmos-altering explosion of divine light and life was released, surging at God’s command, breaking that three-day canopy of silence. And from that tomb, Jesus rose to new life, resurrection life, and all creation rises with him. That newly beheld radiance that is without analogy, sins are forgiven. Death is vanquished forever. God raised Jesus so that you and I might share in his resurrection. And if you turn to him and accept him in faith, he will come into you and raise you into that new and eternal life now, just as he has for your beloved Colin, who now stands upon another shore and in a greater light with that multitude of saints that no mortal can number.
In Colin’s last hours, his loving family went to him in the evening at Walter Reed to say goodbye. In the pre-dawn, he took his last breaths, fell asleep, and awakened into the heart of God. And now Colin knows intimately of what the 17th century Anglican priest and poet John Donne wrote, “Bring us, o Lord God, at our last awakening into that household and gate of heaven, to enter into that gate and dwell in that house, where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light; no noise nor silence, but one equal music; no fears, no hopes, but one equal possession; no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity, in the habitation of thy glory and dominion.” Colin, may you gaze upon our Lord face to face, may angels surround you, and saints welcome you in peace, and may your heart and soul ring out in joy to the living God in whose presence you are held forever.
May God bless you all.