Death rarely comes at a convenient time and usually when the dying and their loved ones would prefer a bit more of it.

Back in 2005 while running down from the summit in the Pikes Peak Marathon here in Colorado Springs, I came upon Gary P. Williams. Gary had still been running up when he suffered a massive heart attack about two miles from the top. Search and Rescue workers tried to revive him, but he died on the mountain. He was just 59 years old.

I remember several people saying Gary died doing what he loved, and where he loved doing it. Perhaps that’s true, but death still seems to strike like a thief, especially when it comes in the middle of a marathon.

But in the pulpit?

I was thinking of Gary’s death recently when I read of pastor John Piper’s reminiscing about the death of Dr. Raymond Edman on September 22, 1967.

At the time, Dr. Piper was a student at Wheaton and enjoying Dr. Edman’s sermon. Here’s how he described it:

We were all sitting there when, suddenly, he stopped for no apparent reason. There were a few seconds of silence. He turned to his left and just collapsed. It was not a gentle collapse, as I recall. He hit the floor like a log, and the sound was frightening. He didn’t crumple. You thought it was quiet before? Good night. Now it was breath-holding quiet as two thousand students trembled inside. “Oh no. What has just happened?”

Dr. Armerding, the new president, who was sitting right behind him in the main chair behind the pulpit, immediately knelt down over Dr. Edman. Then he stood as medical people were coming to the platform, and he said with beautiful, perfect equanimity and the dignity he was known for, “Let us pray.” And he prayed briefly for Dr. Edman and dismissed us in silence.

John Piper and his classmates learned of the professor’s death when they heard the long toll of the chapel bells later that day.

The greatest of all ironies was Dr. Edman’s message that morning: “In the Presence of the King.”

Maybe it won’t surprise you that Dr. Edman hasn’t been the only pastor to die in the pulpit.

Back in January of 2005, the Reverend Jack Arnold, senior pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Oviedo, Florida, collapsed just as he was wrapping up his message. He quoted John Wesley: “Until my work on this earth is done, I am immortal. But when my work for Christ is done … I go to be with Jesus.” Pastor Arnold then said, “And when I go to Heaven …” and then died.

Back in 2012, Los Angeles pastor Barnett K. Thoroughgood was delivering a “fiery” sermon urging his congregation to not waste their fleeting time on earth. He told them if they had a relationship with Christ, “You shall live and not die.” He returned to his chair – and died.

Two years later, the Reverend Thomas Edward Tuggle, 87, passed away after preaching at Dutchman Creek Baptist Church in Mocksville, North Carolina. It was said he reached up as he was dying, as if to embrace Jesus. Given his age and reputation, it was said his death brought as many smiles as it did tears.

In May of 2015, Pastor Kenneth Green of the Greater Saint Mary Baptist Church in New Orleans, Louisiana was preaching a message titled, “Down But Not Out: How to Press Forward” when he collapsed and died in the pulpit.

Pastor Green’s last words couldn’t have been more appropriate. “If the Lord called me now, I’m ready to go,” he said. Sure enough, the Lord called him then and there.

The flowers on the Easter lilies might be wilting, the ham reduced to salads and leftovers, and the candy may be eaten and gone. But the festal season of Eastertide rolls on. The celebration of Christ’s Resurrection reminds us that these extraordinary deaths – and countless others with far less drama – are but the beginning of the best yet to come.


Image from Shutterstock.