As we gather together to mourn the loss of Eugene Michael Piga, each of us seeks to pay our respects. We are here to support one another and to love one another.
But we are also seeking comfort...some form of comfort....for ourselves and for Gene's family.
Jesus said, "Blessed are those who mourn; they will be comforted." And we seek that today.
As I prepared for today, there were two things that gave me comfort, and I want to share them with you.
The first one is a description of something that happened on the very first time I met Gene. It was in the summer of 1981. Gene and his family were packing to move for the very last time; they were going from Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas to their new home in Lakehurst, New Jersey. My girl friend (later my wife) was moving with them, so we loaded her things into my truck and drove to San Antonio. When we arrived, I remember her mother being extremely friendly and welcoming. Her little brother was five or six, and he was bouncing off the walls. Her younger sister, Donna, was indifferent. And then there was the man...sitting in his easy chair and watching sports on television. I politely shook his hand and joined him in the living room.
I remembered that he didn't talk much; I also remembered that after only a few minutes, the two of us were alone. He pointed to an upcoming boxing match on television and asked me if I followed boxing. I told him that I did, and then he set me up by asking who I thought would win. I told him, "Lupe Pintor is the toughest fighter in that division; he will knock this guy out." Gene pretended to be surprised and praised the other fighter. I stuck to my choice.
As we walked over to the dining hall, I noticed how many people were calling out to him. The dining hall wasn't that far away, but he sure did get a lot of shout-outs.
Then we entered the dining hall...and the place went NUTS! It was already loud in there, but when we walked in, the air was filled with shouts of, "CHIEF! CHIEF!" [Gene was a chief master sergeant in the Air Force.] Even the folks behind the counter in the kitchen called out to him. He looked a little embarrassed, and he muttered, "Oh geez..." but he was grinning too.
As this chaotic scene unfolded, I remembered thinking, "Who is this guy?" It was like walking in with Eisenhower! I also remember thinking, "I'm dating this guy's daughter!!!"
The second comforting thing I have been thinking of is a quote from John's Gospel. Jesus tells his disciples, "In my Father's house are many rooms. I go ahead of you to prepare a place for you. Would I tell you this if it were not true?"
I believe that the Lord has prepared a wonderful place for each of us. I think when we get there, it will be like it was when I walked into the dining hall with Gene on that day. There will be shouts of joy and LOUD shouts of our names. I also think there will be One standing there and waiting for us. He will not politely shake our hands; he will grin and hug our necks! I also think that those we love will be waiting for us and calling out to us with joy.
So I am comforted by remembering Jesus' promise to each of us. I am comforted by remembering how much Gene was loved and respected on this earth. And I am comforted in knowing that when Gene reached his Savior, there were shouts of "CHIEF!" and "GENE!"
Because Gene has reached his home. And someday he will be there waiting to greet each of us too.
That's what I believe. And I hope you believe it too.