Five days after her husband and three other church leaders were killed in a plane crash, Cathy Tucker walked onto the stage at Harvest Church in Germantown, Tennessee.
“I had not planned on being here this morning,” she told the packed sanctuary. “And I thought, ‘You know, where else can I be?’ I’m always here. And then I thought, ‘Well, [worship pastor] Tony [Fisher] doesn’t know it, but he’s going to let me sing this morning.”
She laughed, and the congregation laughed with her, then began to applaud.
“And so let me say, good morning,” she said. “We love Jesus. Sing with us and, and I mean, when we sing—take the rafters off, OK?”
It was an emotional morning at the Memphis-area church, which lost an executive pastor, an elder, and two church members when the plane Steve Tucker was piloting crashed in a Texas field on Tuesday morning. Senior pastor Kennon Vaughan, who founded both Harvest Church and Downline Ministries, alone survived. He was in the operating room while his congregation came together Sunday morning.
At Harvest, tears were near the surface, and voices cracked and failed several times during worship songs and times of prayer. The congregation listened to “Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul,” then joined in singing “My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less,” “Crown Him with Many Crowns,” “Yet Not I But Through Christ in Me,” and “When Peace Like a River.”
“The outpouring of love and support that our church has both shown and received this week has been overwhelming,” said Jamie Trussell, Harvest’s ministry development and teaching pastor, before giving the message. “To all the churches and believers across the country and, honestly, across the world that have sought to provide us comfort and cover us in prayer—please know that, from us to you, we are forever and immensely grateful.”
Trussell told Harvest Church members, “This past week has been your finest moment. . . . I know what it means for Jesus to say in John 13 that everyone will know you are my disciples by the way you love one another. Your actions this week were the profound sermon my heart needed.”
He recounted telling the staff about the crash: “[It was] one of the most difficult moments of my life, to give you news I knew would shatter you. And yet I’m glad it was me, because in that moment I also got to experience what has been one of the brightest moments in my life, and that is to watch you respond.”
The funeral for executive pastor Bill Garner was Saturday; there are three more to go. All four of the deceased men embodied Harvest’s core values, Trussell said. Tyler Patterson loved his family and poured himself out for them. Tyler Springer built community through his love and loyalty to others. Elder Steve Tucker was passionate about church planting and discipleship. And Garner understood gospel grace—“He understood how to receive it, and more than most, Bill Garner understood how to give it,” Trussell said.
“Each was a gift to our church,” Trussell said. “And to the families of Tyler, Tyler, Steve, and Bill, please know we are immensely sorry for your loss. We are with you and we love you.”
Suffering and Glory
On a morning heavy with sorrow, Trussell said, “We turn to [God’s] Word knowing this: that in turning to the Scriptures we’re actually turning to God himself. For we believe in his Word God still speaks, and in speaking, God promises to be a God of comfort amidst chaos.”
Trussell built his sermon on the tension of suffering and glory in Romans 8:18–22.
In his Word God still speaks, and in speaking, God promises to be a God of comfort amidst chaos.
“If you’re like me, it is that tension that has defined this week—suffering and glory, pain and promises, anticipation for a future actuality,” he said. If you put the two on a scale, Paul says the glory of the life to come far outweighs the suffering of today.
“So then why does it hurt so bad?” Trussell said. “If you’ve corrected my perspective and I know future glory outweighs earthly pain, why does it still feel like it feels?”
Verse 19 has the answer: “‘For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God’—now that phrase, ‘revealing of the sons of God,’ that is a future state,” he said. “That is a hope and longing for and begging for an existence we have not yet tasted.”
We live in a fractured world, shattered by sin and depravity, Trussell said. But even in that darkness, we can see our salvation because through sin’s curse, God was setting up a way for us to be saved.
“We have these longings because things hurt, but we have hope because there was a promise, and that promise was fulfilled when God came to earth in the person of his Son, lived a sinless life, took his wrath upon himself, died on that cross, rose from the dead so that we can be called children of God,” he said. “But even so, suffering and glory continues.”
It’s like the pain of childbirth, which is an image that crops up over and over in the Bible, Trussell said. This week, the Harvest family was full of groaning, but he pointed to hope: “The pain we’re feeling right now? The promise is it’s going to produce something new. Just like the pain in childbirth progresses to new life, the pain we’re feeling now progresses till we get to glory, we see Jesus, and in the revealing of the sons of God we become something we have never been before—glorified body, restored, sin removed, looking like our Savior.”
Until then, God doesn’t leave us to suffer alone, Trussell said, referencing Romans 8:26. “Someone else is involved in that groaning—my groaning to which I could not find words is taken by the Holy Spirit, he assigns the proper words, and he takes it to our Father. He knows we’re groaning.”
The Spirit gives us both peace and hope for the future.
On January 17, four members of Harvest Church “flew into glory,” Trussell said. “And one day, all of us who are in Christ, we get to fly home too.”