It’s been a hard week. On Monday morning we received news that our coach, mentor, colleague and friend, Athletics Chaplain Maurice Hilliard, had died unexpectedly.
The hushed group of athletes in the Trophy Room greeted the news with shock and a palpable grief. But, from that moment to today, in the midst of this real sadness, I am amazed by what God has done and is doing through the life and death of Maurice.
But, I heard students share about how Maurice had been a father figure. Maurice had been the first person who caused them to consider faith, simply by the way he cared for them. So many students shared that Maurice had “taken them under his wing,” and so many wept at the loss of plans to be with him over the next few days and regular contact and calls that sustained them.
That night at the men’s volleyball game, a crowd came to observe a moment of silence, and we listened to the reflections and prayers of two athletes close to Maurice’s heart. They shared about the race Maurice had run so well, and about his encouragement to us to run towards the prize he’s now received. Maurice’s parents and brothers came to the game, clearly ministering to us as much, or more, than they received our love.
Monday night, in a packed Trophy Room, Our Athletics staff shared about how much Maurice relied on prayer and scripture, and lovingly prayed and ministered to them. A coach shared that Maurice never thought of himself. Maurice said he ministered out of the overflow, said one of his students, and he must have had a small cup to have so much to give. A member of our Advancement team looked around the packed room, surrounded by the emblems of athletic achievement to which that space is dedicated, and gestured to those gathered for prayer Monday night, “This is Maurice’s victory,” he said. We prayed as Maurice often did, “Jesus, we love you today.”
But, as we gathered a small group to pray and share in Stauffer Chapel, we were reminded of Maurice’s faith exercised for others. He often called us by the names he saw us living into, and not just those we carried by our own merit. The memory of him was a present ministry to us. He continued to bless us because he had so clearly pointed us to Christ among us.
Wednesday was hard. Our hearts grew weary.
But, President Benton led us into Chapel with a hearfelt reminder of Maurice’s enduring devotion to Christ and love for us. Local pastors and ministers Maurice met with regularly on Wednesdays prayed together at noon, pierced by his absence and elated for his union with the God he loved. Every minister I have met in the last four days has spoken of Maurice as a co-worker and an inspiration. He wasn’t on any of their staffs; he didn’t attend many of their churches. They knew him by heart.
We met again in the Trophy Room, for prayer and worship led by students Maurice had mentored in faith and encouraged in leadership, and we listened to stories of his friendship and example. One of Maurice’s former students, now a coworker, poignantly reminded us that Maurice was who he was because he sought to be like Jesus. In a time of so much admiration for a well lived life, we are not called to be like Maurice, but to be like Jesus. Each of us would honor him not by comparing our lives to his, but by being formed into who God has called us to be.
Some stayed for a second period of praise and scripture. Another student shared that God had led him Sunday to bring a message of joy, and that he felt it was still the message to bring after Monday’s tragedy. We heard together,
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In the center of a room full of gleaming reminders of human achievement – beautifully earned – we were led into communion together. Students, staff, faculty, alumni circled an end-table with store-bought bread and juice. We shared the simple bread and cup that reminds us of the broken body of Christ. We felt our brokenness. But, the Lord Jesus, who received Maurice’s life whole, was shared among us as we missed our friend, and, yet, received his Savior.
I went this week to be with those grieving this loss, but Maurice had already been there. In his life and ministry, they saw the way to Jesus, who holds them now, and holds our friend.
Maurice was always my encourager. He wasn’t quick to talk about how he was doing, and rarely wasn’t doing well. Occasionally, though, he would find himself discouraged, or anxious, or (especially) busy. “Busy,” he’d say, “but God is good.”
Thank you, Maurice, for nurturing among us the faith, hope, and love that taught us to let God walk us through the dark times, even now.
Thursday was hard. We are grieving. But God is good.
The family of Maurice Hilliard will hold a memorial in Firestone Fieldhouse, Sunday, March 25 at 11:00am. All are welcome to celebrate Coach Mo’s life and comfort those left behind. We will honor Maurice through messages of hope and healing at Wednesday Chapel, 10am in Firestone Fieldhouse. Coach Mo’s book about God’s work in the lives of athletes he mentored is available here.