Soft strains of the prelude hymn "Each Life That Touches Ours for Good" emanated from the organ as a congregation filled the Salt Lake Tabernacle July 27 to honor Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve, whose life and words had touched and edified millions.
Elder Maxwell, 78, died July 21 after an eight-year affliction with malignant leukemia. All three members of the First Presidency spoke at the service as did President Boyd K. Packer, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve, and Cory Hinckley Maxwell, son of Elder Maxwell and his wife, Colleen. Elders Russell M. Nelson and Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve offered prayers. The Tabernacle Choir performed "O Divine Redeemer," "Come unto Him" and "Be Still My Soul," apt summations for a man who pursued a lifelong course of discipleship.
"It is an interesting fact of history that Brother Maxwell died on the anniversary of his call to the apostleship," mused President Gordon B. Hinckley in his address. "The vacancy in the Council of the Twelve which he filled was occasioned by my call to serve as a counselor to President Spencer W. Kimball. It is a strange thing that I should be conducting his funeral service 23 years later. Such are the restless tides of death and life in man's eternal journey."
President Hinckley said he knows of no other man of whom so much good might be said.
"I know of no other who spoke in such a distinctive and interesting way. When he opened his mouth we all listened. We came alive with expectation of something unusual, and we were never disappointed.
"His genius was the product of diligence. He was a perfectionist, determined to extract from each phrase and sentence every drop of nourishment that could be produced. Each talk was a masterpiece, each book a work of art, worthy of repeated reading. I think we shall not see one like him again."
The Church president declared it a miracle that Elder Maxwell tarried so long after the diagnosis of his disease in 1996, acknowledging that at the time, the future looked bleak. "But with determination, good medical care, and much of prayer and faith, he has accomplished more in these last eight years than most men do in a lifetime."
The scriptural text "Look to God, and live," was Elder Maxwell's "polar star," President Hinckley said. "The grand eternal scheme of the Father intrigued him. He repeatedly dealt with it. He reflected on it. It consumed his interest. The great Atonement of the Redeemer, the Son of God, was an incomparable act of which he frequently bore testimony. He unrolled the divine scroll to reveal with clarity the design of the Master Architect of man's eternal destiny."
Like Jesus, whom he loved, Elder Maxwell "went about doing good," President Hinckley said, noting that in the midst of his affliction, "he comforted, blessed and encouraged his fellow sufferers. Their oppressive burdens were made lighter by this Good Samaritan who bound up their wounds and brought the sunlight of hope into their lives. He gave to those in need. He challenged the proud and arrogant and caused them to think of the fragile nature of their station and possessions."
To Sister Maxwell, whom he described as "beautiful in her features, beautiful in her ways," he said: "As one who has recently passed through this ordeal (the death of a spouse) I think I know something of what lies ahead for you. At funerals we speak words intended to give comfort. But in reality they afford but little comfort. Only those who have passed through this dark valley know of its utter desolation. To lose one's much-loved partner with whom one has long walked through sunshine and shadow is absolutely devastating."
Nevertheless, he added, "In the quiet of the night a silent whisper is heard that says 'All is well; all is well.' And that voice from out of the unknown brings peace, and certainty and unwavering assurance that death is not the end, that life goes on, with work to do and victories to be gained. That voice quietly, even unheard with mortal ears, brings the assurance that as surely as there has been separation there will be a joyful reuniting."
President Thomas S. Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency, said of Elder Maxwell, "Neal knew the Lord, and the Lord knew Neal."
"As long as I live," President Monson declared, "I shall cherish the sweet spirit of my last visit to the home of Neal and Colleen. Just the three of us were present. We all knew that Neal's mortal journey was coming to its close.
"Since Neal had served with me on the priesthood leadership committee for a number of years, he quipped to me: 'Tom, do you think that Brother (Harold B.) Lee needs me on a leadership committee where he now is and where I shall soon be?'
"Neal and Colleen mentioned they were going to visit grandchildren that afternoon. I understand that Neal gave a special blessing to each of his grandchildren before his passing. That day in his home, I gave a priesthood blessing to Neal."
President Monson said he reminded Elder Maxwell of a regional conference they both attended long ago, when Elder Maxwell handed a note to him reading, "Tom, I love you. Neal." President Monson said he has kept the cherished note in his leather-bound scriptures.
"That special day of my farewell to Neal, he, with tears in his eyes, said: 'Tom, I still do.' "
President James E. Faust, second counselor in the First Presidency, spoke of his and Elder Maxwell's common bond as graduates of Granite High School in Salt Lake City.
"We remember him telling us in general priesthood meeting of his embarrassment in high school class when the teacher told him he needed to go home because his pigs had got loose," President Faust recalled. "That crisis passed, because in that priesthood meeting he then held up a blanket with all the ribbons he had won raising pigs."
He further recalled a lesson taught to Neal by a stern English teacher who gave him a rather low grade, even though he was exceptional for a high school student, and said, "Neal, you can do better work than this." He was always grateful for the lesson, President Faust added.
Touching on Elder Maxwell's leadership experience in Okinawa in World War II, his mission to Canada, his marriage and his career as an educator, administrator and General Authority, President Faust said, "He was a conceptual genius, prolific writer and a gifted administrator, but he greatly enjoyed being a teacher."
Regarding Elder Maxwell's fatal disease, President Faust said, "As he went through the refiner's fire, he somehow became more wise, more understanding, more meek, more humble. In these intervening years he has been facing death squarely, humbly, full of faith, with humor, and — in his words — grateful for the 'delay en route.' He developed a new ministry to those who are also afflicted with cancer. He gave succor and blessings generously."
President Packer said ten years and five months have passed since a member of the Quorum of the Twelve has died, the longest such period in Church history. "During those years, the Twelve, working under the direction of the First Presidency, have grown in unity, in experience and in age. There is a spirit of dedication and brotherhood."
Noting that Elder Maxwell's passing was expected, he said, "He met the challenge with resolute courage. He either ignored or rose up against hardships."
To illustrate Elder Maxwell's spirit, President Packer recounted an incident from the last meeting of the Twelve: Elder Maxwell, knowing he had but a few days to live, arrived on the arm of another apostle. Encountering 97-year-old Elder David B. Haight, who was leaning on a cane, Elder Maxwell playfully lifted his own cane as though it were a sword and said, "En garde!" "David raised his cane, and there was a fencing match of sorts between those two venerable apostles," President Packer said. "It broke off without bloodshed on either side!"
Saying he was doing what Elder Maxwell wanted him to do, President Packer spoke on what the revelations and the prophets have said about dying and the spirit world. He cited Alma 40:9, 11-12; Doctrine and Covenants 138:30 and Doctrine and Covenants 42:46 relative to paradise, spirit prison and the work of redemption that is going on beyond the veil. "Now Neal is serving there, and we are left to endure our loss," he said.
Cory Maxwell said his father kept an eternal perspective. "Years ago, he wrote: 'On the other side of the veil there are perhaps 70 billion people. They need the same gospel, and releases occur here to aid the Lord's work there. Though we miss the departed righteous so much here, hundreds may feel their touch there. One day, those hundreds will thank the bereaved for gracefully foregoing the extended association with choice individuals here in order that they could help hundreds there. In God's ecology, talent and love are never wasted.' "
Brother Maxwell said that when his father was interviewed on public television a few years ago, he was asked what his greatest achievement was. "He said he hoped it could be said of him at his funeral that he was a successful father, grandfather, neighbor, friend and apostle. I believe that hope has been fulfilled."
E-mail to: email@example.com