One of the most startling marks of the current crisis caused by coronavirus is the impact it has had upon funerals. This is largely due to the spread traced to a funeral in Dougherty County.
There are no long greeting lines, there are no fifty car processions to the cemetery, there are no long-extended hugs. In many cases, there are only a few close family members, a funeral director, and a pastor. This was the setting as we said “goodbye” to a friend and longtime Georgia Baptist pastor, Rev. Marvin Cochran, this past Resurrection Sunday.
Marvin had longed joked with his children, “Just put me in a pine box and float me down the Chattahoochee!” Well, he almost got what he asked for. There was a beautiful pine box, just a few of us, and there was enough rain that day to fill the Chattahoochee.
He pastored with his wife of sixty-five years, Gwen.
The Cochran’s had ministered in Georgia Baptist churches for over fifty years. For the last eight and a half years it has been my privilege to be his pastor. Frankly, retired pastors aren’t always the easiest to pastor, but when one has a relationship like I was blessed to have with Marvin, one finds he can have no better encourager or confidant.
I wrote Brother Marvin a letter on his eighty-seventh birthday in 2014, and when I was searching for words to speak as his eulogy, I couldn’t say it better than I had six years ago. I’ve modified it slightly for this article:
“I cannot praise God enough that He has seen it fit that you and Mrs. Gwen be part of the church family Cheryl and I have been called to serve at this time of beginning for us and in the season of which you are now. I only pray that one day I may be half the encouragement to some young man that you are to me. Hebrews 13:7 reminds us, Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. As I consider the outcome of your way of life there are many ways which many of us would do well to imitate and I would like to recount a few. Your joy, courage, and life of prayer are pillars on which many of us are encouraged today and are pillars on which we stand.
First, your evident joy is infectious and cannot be overlooked. The smile and wrinkles you bear on your face are indelible marks of the deep joy you have in the love of God and the love you have so often displayed to others in words of encouragement, hugs, and hands held. You have encouraged undoubtedly thousands simply by your pastoral presence. You enjoy good stories, you enjoy laughter – and we all enjoy hearing your stories and hearing your laugh. Your smile, though bearing the marks of age, also bears the uncanny marks of youthfulness. In some ways one may readily see that you are a big kid yourself. You take joy in children, and they lovingly respond.
One young man put it best when he called you the “grandfather of the church.” As I have said, your joy is evident, it is a joy that cannot be made up, it is a joy that can only be found in knowing the peace of God that passes all understanding.
Your courage as a pastor, especially in days gone by, have been a source of encouragement to me. To hear your stories of dealing with difficult people, some deacons, and other church conflicts, and to see you on the other side of decades of service, reminds me that this can be survived even on days when it feels grim.
You are one who has been faithful to your convictions and stood squarely upon the Truth so far as you have understood it, and I am thankful for the fight you have fought that encourages me and has paved the way for a new generation of Baptists, many of whom may not even know your name. I count it a high privilege that I do get to know you.
Finally, one cannot think of Marvin Cochran and not think of a man of prayer. Your prayers are rooted so deep in your soul that one cannot help but think they must be music to Heaven. Prayers like this can only come from the heart of one who has spent many hours speaking to the Father and having seen decades of answers to prayer.
Even through difficulties with your health, your family has told me there was never a moment you couldn’t pray. Sometimes your prayers of five minutes minister more to my soul than hour-long sermons I have heard. I thank you for leading us in going to throne in this way so many times. In this especially, I know I am not alone.
Thank you, Brother Marvin, for remaining faithful and being a living monument to the evident grace and faithfulness of our God.
From your local Timothy, John”
In the letter I mention Marvin’s courage. It is to his credit and part of his legacy that one of the greatest challenges he faced came in the midst of integration. He marched as a student at Mercer, he was pushed out of one pastorate because of his views, and he didn’t go to another one when it was plainly insinuated to him his views were not welcomed. (In that instance, he responded, “well then, you can find another rabbit for your briar patch!”)
Marvin’s favorite verse was Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. . .” Marvin was not only unashamed of the gospel, he was also unashamed of the implications of the gospel.
In his final days I quoted this verse at his bedside and asked him, “Are you ashamed of the Gospel?” He said, “No!” I further asked, “Are you ready to see the Lord?” He responded, “Yes!”
To quote a friend, “Marvin Cochran is a hero, and great is his reward.”
Nicholas Von Zinzendorf once stated, “Preach the gospel, die, and be forgotten!” I think this sentiment would suit Marvin just fine, but it doesn’t suit us who knew him and will never forget him. It’s worth the chuckle to mention in regard to his being “buried” in the Chattahoochee he further said, “that way the catfish can eat me. Lord knows, I’ve eaten plenty of them!”