It was one of those moments for which God brought me to this place. They were surprised to find a service booklet, a sermon, and, in the daughter's words, "a whole real service." A the end of the sermon, when I invited people to share memories of G, she spoke, honestly and from her heart about her mom, about both struggle and love, tears were shed. Her brother spoke as well, and was more humorous and lighthearted. Two friends also shared, one a friend of the daughter about how G had "mothered" her too in her teen years, and another about simple good times he had shared with G. In all of it there was no doubt in my mind we were on holy ground. When we went downstairs for the reception the daughter spoke to me again about her surprise that this service was so "special" and how much she appreciated that. She seemed amazed that it all came from the BCP and said, "I guess it really has been a long time since I've been in an Episcopal church." The acolyte, who is a really lovely man, and I shared a moment after the service. I always tell him how much I appreciate it when he acolytes as I feel as if I am in good hands up there. He is a cradle Episcopalian and knows what I'm doing liturgically better than I do! He gave me the thumbs up after for a "first time well done" and I told him that from him that really meant a lot. He said we were a good team....I teared up.
I know your prayers once again carried me. As I float off to bed in my liturgical afterglow, I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.
...And now that it is morning of the next day and I am back at the office....here is the sermon from the funeral based on Romans 8:14-19,34-35,37-39 John 11:21-27
Whenever someone dies, for those left behind there is a time of a kind of confusion and shock, a time of pain and grief as we adjust to life without the presence of our loved one in our lives. We miss their earthly presence. Not being able to see and speak with them, to share the daily ups and downs of life, to do the things we have always done together. We may also be left with feelings of things unfinished. Things we wished we had done or said, or things we did not get to bring to some conclusion in our often complicated relationships with our loved ones. They of course are now at peace and are beyond such concerns, though we may continue to struggle with such feelings, because such is way of our human selves.
Of course we will grieve and mourn. We all go through that process in all its parts however it may manifest itself for us when we lose a loved one. It is part of the way we honor our humanity and our connections with one another. Jesus the Incarnate One, fully human among us, himself wept at the news of the death of his friend Lazarus.
But while we go through this very human process of letting go of and missing G in her earthy life, we can also take some great comfort in the promises of our faith. As Jesus told Martha as she grieved the loss of her brother, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” As Christians we believe that by dying and rising again Jesus has conquered death and that it truly is not an end of life, but only as life as we know it. G, as all of those who have gone on before us, live on in a great community of saints. And we believe that we will all rise again in glory together.
And we can also take comfort in another promise that God has made us in Jesus. And that is the one we hear in Romans, the one that nothing can separate us from God’s love. While we are grieving, or suffering pain, or asking difficult questions, this God who loved us enough to become one of us and is close enough to be called “ abba, father” gathers us up, joins with us in our struggles to offer comfort to us and to let us know we are never, never alone. Our God is with us to carry us through and we can call on God to comfort us as we grieve the loss of G.
Another way that we take comfort as humans is through memory. As long as we carry the memories of our loved ones in our hearts they are never very far from us. While I did not know G personally here at St. James I have been told that she added so much to our dinners here through her wonderful cooking, and that both of your parents were vital members of this community through their love of music and involvement with church and community programs. Everyone I have talked to about her has emphasized her zest for life, and more than one person has use the word "character" to describe her. At this point I would like to offer you some time to come and share with us all some of your memories of G. To tell all of us how she touched your life, so that we all might share in those and find comfort in that this evening.