It was not surprising Antioch Baptist Church North was packed on Monday, the day set aside to celebrate the life of the Rev. Cameron Madison Alexander.
People came from all over this city and nation to honor him and then see him off to his final resting place.
The Rev. Joseph Lowery was there, seated near former Ambassador Andrew Young, civil rights icon C.T. Vivian and Congressman John Lewis. The Rev. Jesse Jackson of the Rainbow Push Coalition, Atlanta City Councilmen Michael Bond and Andre Dickens, both members of Antioch, and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms were among those who spoke.
“I stand here because of Cameron Madison Alexander,” the mayor told the crowd of thousands.
Since his passing on the last Sunday of 2018, the sentiment has been repeated hundreds of times – in Facebook posts, at a memorial service held a week later, at his funeral, where Bottoms presented Alexander with the Phoenix Award, her first as mayor.
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“Generations will remember his legacy, and our city will forever hold him in our hearts,” she said.
In my nearly 40 years of writing for a daily newspaper, this is my first experience writing about a pastor who has meant so much to so many and to whom I feel a personal connection.
It isn’t easy.
From any place in this city too busy to hate, from any place within a 10-mile radius of Antioch Baptist Church North, you can see the cross.
For decades, it has stood tall, a stark contrast to a community weighed down by poverty and despair, seemingly void of hope.
And yet it was on this cross that the Rev. Alexander hung all of his hope.
>> RELATED: Pastor Alexander, until we meet again
It is why Sunday after Sunday, I, my husband, Jimmy, and our daughters, together with the rest of the congregation, gathered, and why Pastor Alexander without fail preached the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ with fear and trembling.
As any good shepherd, it was his mission to make sure we fought the good fight, kept the faith, and made it to the place that was being prepared for us in heaven.
If there were those who felt he failed in that mission, I haven’t heard from them.
On Monday, there seemed to be no end to the men and women who admired him and the life he lived.
He was remembered as a giant of men, a pastor’s pastor, a dreamer who dreamed big, a man ahead of his time, a man of vision, a master teacher.
“He taught us well,” longtime member Dr. Margaret Weaver reminded us. “I too remember how he repeatedly told us to get to know Christ before the crisis.”
On the Sunday we learned of his passing, Weaver said the congregation felt like a rudderless ship, like children who’d been suddenly orphaned.
But we saw too, she said, the opportunity to put into practice what Alexander had taught us — to worship God, to still give him glory even though we were hurting.
Pastor Alexander, you see, taught us that worship wasn’t contingent on how we felt.
“He taught us to say what the psalmist said: “I will bless the lord at all times …”
And so we celebrated — the goodness of God and the man Cameron Madison Alexander, the life he gave us to share.
And what a celebration it was.
The best part, perhaps, came near the end when three of his grandchildren — Adam, Erica and Greg — spoke.
Adam went first, recalling the moment after he tried to commit suicide and how Pastor Alexander, never short of a story to tell, told him about a lost man.
“Adam, don’t ever think you’re lost,” he said his grandfather told him. “You’re not lost. You just don’t know where you are right now.”
Erica, who didn’t hesitate to put her life on hold to help care for her grandparents, remembered funny 3 a.m. encounters with him in the kitchen and another story about buttermilk he used to illustrate how important it is, no matter what life throws at you, to keep churning.
“No matter the beating, if you keep churning, butter will rise to the top,” she said the pastor told her.
I imagine him now in heaven, walking those streets of gold, bellowing over and over “oooooo weeeee, God almighty,” his way of celebrating a stirring sermon.
There were more stories from Greg and the Rev. Jerry Black, the eulogist and a longtime friend of Pastor Alexander’s who said to know the late pastor was to love him.
Black, drawing from the 13th chapter of John, said he’d come to the conclusion that life is a journey spent either coming or going.
And though no one comes and asks us to be born, before we knew what was happening, we were here.
“We live life between these two extremes,” he said. “Coming and going. Arrivals and departures. Entrances and exits.”
We had little to do with our coming, but a whole lot to do with the in between, the way we live our lives.
Between coming and going, Black said, there are some things we will need to put off, some things we will need to put on, and like Jesus and Pastor Alexander live our lives serving others.
Then after recalling Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, he remembered the day, after a long illness, when he went to his favorite suit shop and realized it had closed.
A sign on the door indicated the shop had moved, Black said.
When he arrived at the new location, he noticed things were much better.
“I thought about it,” he said. “On Feb. 12, 1932, Alexander had his coming, but on Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, he had his going.”
Black said he remembers the sign on the suit shop and is reminded that Pastor Alexander is still operating, still in business and that because of Christ’s death on the cross, his life now is so much better.
It all made sense. The cross, after all, is where Alexander hung all his hope.