It's been a year since we lost John Reist. We are poorer for that loss. But we are a whole year closer to reunion. In his memory, I re-run here what I said about him then.
I never had to say, “John Reist is here.”
John always announced his own presence, even if he were still some distance away. At any moment of any day, you might step outside the faculty office building into the quad and hear someone whistling a tune, and you’d think, “It’s Reist.”
As the song got louder and John himself appeared, he’d tell you a joke, maybe three. John had a joke for every conceivable occasion, and even a few for occasions not conceivable.
Then he’d complain. Something always was wrong. Something or someone always needed to be addressed.
Forgive me if I assume you might not see the connection between the song, the joke, and the complaint, but too many folks did not.
John had a song, a joke, and a complaint precisely because, more than anyone else I ever knew, he tried to live a thoroughly and authentically theological existence. He knew and he professed the lordship of Christ. He was committed in faith to the God Who became a man, Who suffered and writhed in agony on the cross for the sins of the world, Who died, was buried, and rose from the dead. John understood that in the death and resurrection of Christ the sorry and tragic history of human life, as well as its destiny, had been redeemed and renewed, that the Devil and his works were doomed, and that the final chapter in the lives of all believers was not just a happy ending, but the happiest.
John knew that sin had been declawed, that death’s sting had been removed, and that Christ was Lord of all things. For John, as for all conscientious Christians, that meant we have a reason to sing, a reason to laugh, and a reason to work.
So he went about his life whistling, laughing, and putting wrongs right. He especially liked putting right arrogant and self-congratulatory piosity wherever he found it. He delighted in popping the bubbles of pretense. He found them everywhere. If he caught you primping, preening, posing, or posturing, he’d do you the favor none of your other friends would do: He’d do you the enormous favor of popping your bubble. In a religion like Christianity, based as it is so fully on God’s grace and not on human virtue, nothing better could happen to you.
So he whistled, he joked, and he popped.
On the day I shut the door that closes this life and open the one that leads me into the next, I expect to hear somebody whistling in the distance, and then saying to me with a chuckle, “Who would have guessed? They let in Baptists!”
As always, even in Heaven, I won’t have to say “Reist is here.” He’ll already have announced his presence. Then he’ll remind me that “Christ has died, Christ has risen, and Christ is coming again.”
In light of that stupendous truth, the only sensible response I can offer here is to say, “Somebody sing a song. Somebody tell a joke. Somebody pop a bubble.”