St. George’s Chapel
November 20, 2013
Today we are celebrating the life of B. As you heard from his family and friends just now, B was a kind, hard-working man and a blessing to all who knew him. In recognition of the gift he was to us, we have come before this altar today to offer his life as a gift to God. And what an amazing life it was! Not many people have the honor of having their name on the moon, but I’m betting if you asked B what his greatest accomplishment was, he wouldn’t talk about the moon or even golf. I’m betting he would probably say it was his family.
J told me that B never doubted he was going to heaven when he died. He told her that he didn’t really fear death; he just wasn’t ready yet to leave his family and friends behind. B left us suddenly, but our relationship with him is not over; it has merely changed. His spirit lives on in the memories we have of him, in the stories of him that bring both laughter and tears. We weep now, but “the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces” (Isaiah 25:8).
As we surround the family with our humble offerings of love and support, we remember that B is also “surrounded by [a] great...cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1). We are also reminded that we will all eventually be reunited with him when we take our part among those witnesses. In the meantime, when we take part in the Eucharist, we join with angels and archangels and B and all the company of heaven in singing God’s praises.
It may be difficult right now to sing God’s praises or even absorb words of comfort. In our loss we may identify more with the psalmist, who in times of grief thought, “Surely the darkness will cover me” (Psalm 139:10). In our pain we may feel disconnected or distant from God. But Isaiah tells us that this veil, this feeling of separation from God, will one day be destroyed. Indeed, it already has in the person of Jesus, God become human. Jesus came to restore our broken relationship with God, and for our sins he was put to death. But we know that his death is not the end of the story. The path to the cross was followed by the miracle of resurrection, which forever destroyed death. Death no longer has the last word!
Before he died, Jesus told his followers that he was going before them to “prepare a place for [them]” (John 14:2). He spoke of a house with “many dwelling-places” (v. 2). B is there now in the place that Christ has prepared for him. He is in the presence of his Creator, who “knit [him] together in [his] mother’s womb” and has welcomed him into his loving arms once again (Psalm 139:12).
In our sorrow we lean on the Lord who knew intimately the pain of suffering. In the last verse of the song that A so beautifully sang,
“Whenever I am tempted, whenever clouds arise,
When songs give place to sighing, when hope within me dies,
I draw the closer to Him, from care He sets me free;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
(His Eye is on the Sparrow*).
The psalmist assures us that rather than waiting for us to stumble our way to God, God meets us where we are: “you have searched me out and known me” (v. 1). Like a shepherd looking for lost sheep, God comes to us and guides us home, leading us “in the way that is everlasting” (v. 23). We are never lost to God; there is no place where God can’t find us: “If I climb up to heaven [God is] there; if I make the grave my bed, [God is] there also” (v. 7). God’s love for us does not end, even when we die.
We know that at our physical death life continues. As John Newton so eloquently put it in the original version of Amazing Grace:
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
(image found here)
* Watch this video if you wanna hear an amazing performance of His Eye Is on the Sparrow by the Mississippi Children's Chorus! [warning: you may need a tissue]