June 11, 2004
Remarks by Former Senator John Danforth
REVEREND JOHN DANFORTH: May I speak in the name of one God who created us, who redeemed us, who comforts us. Amen.
This is a service about Ronald Reagan and it is a religious service. We've gathered to celebrate the life of a great president in a church where believers profess their faith. So this is not only about a person, but about faith, and the homily is the place to connect the two.
For President Reagan, the text is obvious. It's from the sermon on the mount. "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid." It was his favorite theme from his first inaugural address to his final address from the Oval Office. For him, America was the shining city on a hill.
His immediate source was the sermon preached by John Winthrop just read by Justice O'Connor. Winthrop believed that the eyes of the
world would be on America because God had given us a special commission, so it was our duty to shine forth. The Winthrop message became the Reagan message. It rang of optimism and we longed to hear it, especially after the dark years of Vietnam and Watergate.
It was a vision with policy implications. America could not hide its light under a bushel. It could not turn in on itself and hunker down. Isolationism was not an option. Neither was protectionism. We must champion freedom everywhere. We must be the beacon for the world.
What Ronald Reagan asked of America, he gave of himself. The great American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote "The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness." If ever we have known a child of light, it was Ronald Reagan. He was aglow with it. He had no dark side, no scary hidden agenda. What you saw was what you got, and what you saw was that sure sign of inner light, the twinkle in the eye.
He was not consumed by himself. He didn't need to be president to be a complete person. The only thing he really needed was to be with his wife. Mrs. Reagan, you shared him with us, and for that, we will always be grateful.
He shined the light, but not upon himself. Personally modest, he disclaimed the title "the Great Communicator" and claimed only to communicate great things from the heart of a great nation.
He liked to laugh, especially at himself. There was nothing petty or mean-spirited about him. Even his opponents liked him. I recall sitting at a table with President Reagan and Speaker O'Neill, listening to their jokes. It was the opposite of negative politics.
He inspired devotion more than fear. Mike Deaver wrote, "There was something about him that made you want to please him and do your best. This applied to everybody."
It certainly applied to those of us who served in Congress.
His most challenging task came on the day he was shot. He wrote in his diary of struggling for breath and of praying. "I realized I couldn't ask for God's help while at the same time I felt hatred for the mixed-up young man who shot me," he wrote. "Isn't that the meaning of the lost sheep? We are all God's children and therefore equally loved by him. So I began to pray for his soul and that he would find his way back to the fold."
He was a child of light. Now consider the faith we profess in this church. Light shining in darkness is an ancient biblical theme. Genesis tells us that in the beginning, darkness was upon the face of the deep. Some equate this darkness with chaos. And God said let there be light, and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. Creating light in darkness is God's work. You and I know the meaning of darkness. We see it on the evening news -- terror, chaos, war. An enduring image of 9/11 is that on a brilliantly clear day, a cloud of darkness covered lower Manhattan. Darkness is real and it can be terrifying. Sometimes it seems to be everywhere. So the question for us is what do we do when darkness surrounds us?
Saint Paul answered that question. He said we must walk as children of light. President Reagan taught us that this is our mission both as individuals and as a nation.
The faith proclaimed in this church is that when we walk as children of light, darkness cannot prevail. The St. John's Gospel tells us the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. That's true even of death.
For people of faith, death is no less awful than for anyone else, but the resurrection means that death is not the end. The Bible describes the most terrible moment in these words: "When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon." That was the darkness of Good Friday. It did not prevail. Very early on the first day of the week when the sun had risen, that's the beginning of the Easter story; the light shines, the Lord has risen.
In this service of worship, we celebrate the life of a great president, and we profess the resurrection faith of this church. It is faith in God's victory over darkness. It is faith in the ultimate triumph of light. We believe in this victory every day of our lives. We believe it as individuals, we believe it as a nation. There is no better time to celebrate the triumph of light than in a service for Ronald Reagan.