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March 25, 2016

On Friday, January 17, 2014, friends and family gathered to celebrate the life of Bruce Cash in a funeral service designed exactly the way Bruce wanted it to be. Those who attended had a meaningful experience, remembering Bruce as a kind and faithful man whose life touched many others.

Bruce was my brother-in-law, married to my little sister Kitty. She is the youngest of eight; I am the oldest. When she was born, I was in junior high school.

Having a little sister is good for an older brother. I saw myself as her guardian, her protector, not as a parental surrogate. That role was strongly activated when Kitty began dating. I thought my responsibility was to keep the creepy guys away, which I did. We welcomed Bruce Cash into the Neely family, and I have thanked the Lord for him many times. Bruce was the perfect husband for my little sister and perfect father to their six children.

Many remember Bruce best for his work as the pharmacist and owner of Ford’s Drugs. Many others remember him best for his beautiful voice. From the songs of James Taylor to the hymns of faith, Bruce had a magnificent voice.

From the late 1980s through the early 1990s First Baptist Church secured the Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium for the presentation of The Passion of Christ. During this musical drama scheduled for Holy Week, Bruce portrayed Christ and rightly so. Not only did he have the voice, but he also possessed a deep humility. The role fit him, and he fit the part.

To prepare for the Passion play, Bruce began letting his whiskers grow after Christmas so that he would have a full beard before Easter. Customers in the drug store noticed the facial hair and anticipated the drama to come.

One morning following the presentation of The Passion of Christ, I walked into Ford’s Drugs and exchanged greetings with an older gentleman. He said, “I saw the Passion play for the first time last night. The production was very well done. I had considerable trouble going to sleep though because I just couldn’t get the story out of my mind. I’ll tell you what, there’s nothing like walking into a drugstore for a prescription and having Jesus hand me the medicine.”

Holy Week, the days between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, centers on an up-close and personal encounter with Jesus. Each year at this time Christians remember the events that occurred during the last week of the earthly life of Jesus. Seeing the images of Jesus depicted in renaissance paintings or even in motion pictures can create a profound experience. But hearing Bruce quote the teachings of Jesus and seeing him kneel in the garden was deeply moving. Then seeing someone I know and love on the cross was heart breaking.  Hearing Bruce utter that excruciating cry from the cross, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” brought me to tears.

Except for John, the beloved disciple and Jesus’s first cousin, the other disciples were not present when Jesus died at the hands of the Romans.. A common interpretation of the fact is that they were fearful for their own lives. That explanation may very well be true. I think it is also possible that they just could not bear the horror of seeing someone they knew so well, the teacher they had heard speaking to the multitudes, the healer who had touched so many live, the friend and companion who loved them dearly, the one whom they loved, they could not witness the cruel death on Golgotha. When I saw Bruce on a cross, even in a Passion play, it hurt me and moved me deeply.

Bruce taught me a significant truth about the primary reason to observe Good Friday. The one crucified on that old rugged cross is not a chiseled icon, a depiction of one distant and anonymous.  This is no generic sacrifice on a hill far away. This is an act of personal self-giving love.  More is required than a passing nod or slight reverence. Christ is the Savior who loves us and desires a personal relationship with us. What happened that day was the supreme act of divine and human love. Bruce knew that in every fiber of his being. His representation of Christ was genuine because it came from his heart.

In the words of Isaac Watts:

See from His head, His hands, His feet,

Sorrow and love flow mingled down….

Love so amazing, so divine,

Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Bruce cash, my brother-in-law, my brother-in-love, hanging on a cross comes to mind every Good Friday.

For me, it makes the experience of this event at the core of the Christian faith very personal. And I am eternally grateful.

Kirk H. Neely

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