image(4)I’ve been thinking about Archie lately.

It’s been three years since he died, but he doesn’t often escape my thoughts for very long. This time it was C.S. Lewis, whom I’ve been reading a lot lately, who sent me back to Archie.

Lewis liked to outline the various loves in the Christian life. He was always clear that of those loves, the agape love—that self-giving love that God in Christ had shown toward us and now calls forth from us—was the highest. I can rarely hear the word agape without Archie coming to mind.

For six years, Archie was usually one of my deacons and—more importantly—constantly a good friend. Archie was already in his mid-seventies when we met. From the beginning he and his wife Madeline tended to see me as an extra grandson.

I’m not sure that it was obvious we would hit it off quite as well as we did. Archie liked to hunt. I spent most of my time in McAdam trying to avoid getting too close to the wildlife. He was of that burly type of build that could make me appear even smaller than I ordinarily do. He made things with his hands. I liked the thought of making things, but had little experience in that department.

I think what made the difference was that he made a decision to befriend me before we really even knew one another. When news came that I was going to begin as the pastor in mid-2006, Archie set to work building a bookcase for me. He heard that I had, to put it mildly, a fondness for books. He knew I had a fair number of them to bring with me. So he designed and constructed a book case the exact size of the biggest open wall in my study at the church. Before I arrived, he and another church member put it together in that room, since it was too big to get through the door even partially assembled. He told me later that while he was doing the job, he remarked, “He won’t have enough books to fill this.” When I got there and unloaded my library, he was pleasantly surprised that I was able to fill it pretty well. Within a couple of years there was no space left at all.

Sometime soon after, Archie and I set to work together building a smaller case for the house. (At the time it was intended to hold movies as well as books, but now it’s entirely crammed with books.) I was able to get acquainted with the process of small-project carpentry with Archie as my guide. It was great to see it through to completion, but better to spend the time together.

A couple of years later Archie presented me with—yes, a theme is emerging—a small expandable bookshelf he had designed with me in mind. It found a place on my desk at the church. On the bottom he inscribed it:

DESIGNED AND BUILT BY A
DEC/2009
MAY ALL THE BOOKS THIS LITTLE SHELF HOLDS THROUGH THE YEARS BRING TO THE READERS UNDERSTANDING OF OUR SAVIOUR AND DRAW THEM CLOSER TO HIM.

All the while, of course, Archie was active in every aspect of church life. He was there on Wednesdays for choir practice and Bible study. He was there at deacons meetings. He and Madeline would invite us over for supper from time to time. And every Sunday morning he was there in my study along with the other deacons to pray before the service began. And nearly every time he prayed he included a special note of thanksgiving along these lines: “Lord, we especially thank you for your agape love.” Whatever else he was praying for—and he was diligent in prayer for the concerns of the week—Archie was steadfast in his gratitude for God’s agape love that had been shown us in Jesus.

Archie had come to Christ in midlife. In 1978, at 46 years old, Archie’s conversion was the answer to a prayer Maddie had been bringing to God for ages. Archie often wished he had become a Christian sooner. He regretted the lost time, and some of his past ways. When it came to his salvation, Archie was humble: he knew that he had been touched with God’s grace, and that nothing he had done prior to that played any part in giving him his new life in Christ. God had loved him without the possibility of getting anything out of it. God was in the business of freely extending his agape love. Archie was always indebted for that gift, and he was forever thankful for it.

It seems to me now as I remember Archie’s attention toward me, his patience, his accommodation to my interests, that all of these were the outward expressions of his gratitude for God’s agape love. In the words of one of Madeline’s favourite Scriptures (and praise choruses), freely he had received, freely he now was sure to give. He gave time and attention to me with nothing really to get out of it. No doubt his grandchildren have similar memories as those I have. Certainly the church could vouch for my story.

As for me, I have those bookcases to remind me: not only of Archie, and not only of a friendship and a kindly man. Finally they are reminders of the sphere of life I too have been brought into: the community of the beloved, the people of God in Christ who are touched generation after generation by the same agape love I heard Archie pray for all those Sunday mornings.