Yesterday evening I preached at a funeral (on unexpectedly short notice, with imprecise information regarding the readings — I got lucky that nothing vital hinged on the substituted reading, but one of the readings I’d been told to expect was not what was read). It went all right, but preaching at a funeral is pretty stressful, especially when you have less time to work up the homily than usual, and then all the more so when you hear a different lesson from what you were expecting. Anyway, I’ll append it in the extended section.
I heard a rumor that David Weinberger read the Archbishop of Canterbury’s lecture and even had some comments on it; if he blogs it, I’ll delightedly link to him (and probably argue with him, since “AKMA and David arguing about hermeneutics” is like “David and AKMA breathing”).
Anyway, I’m drained from last night, and that’ before tonight’s service at St Luke’s celebrating our rector’s investiture. Tomorrow night Seabury’s celebrating a U2charist, plus we’re entertaining a candidate for our librarian’s position. I’m even more tired just thinking about it.
Someone, hire Gary!
Wis 3:1-5, 9/Ps 23/Rev 21:2-7/John 14:1-6
April 17, 2007
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit — Amen.
If “in the eyes of the foolish our loved ones seem to have died,” why then this evening makes us all foolish. The tide of grief that rises high among those close to Anne touches all of our hearts, and we share in a sadness that disaster has stirred up, close to home and far beyond these walls. Grief casts a shadow whose disorienting chill throws us off balance, confuses us, wearies us, bewilders us into thinking of departure as loss, of absence as emptiness. Tonight we cannot deny death’s power. We are torn apart; we are frayed; tonight, if Scripture says so, we shiver at news of disaster, and if that makes us fools, then such we are.
Souls attuned to one another, lives interlocked with one another cannot simply brush off sorrow. We can hear that we shouldn’t be disheartened at their departure, that God holds their lives dear — but lives intertwined, loves shared will stagger and falter when stunned by loss. Faith doesn’t immunize us against sorrow. If we love with the wholeness to which God calls us, we have all the more at hazard in the lives of our family and our friends; and when they fall subject to affliction and death, we need not hesitate to weep without restraint. Jesus blesses those who mourn, not those who suppress their grief. Jesus commands us to gives ourselves fully to one another, not to protect our imperturbable autonomy. At Lazarus’ tomb, Jesus himself wept, and in his grief he shared our own shaken spirits.
Our sadness sets its roots in the precedent Jesus showed us, of utter faithfulness to one another; our sadness stems from rupture of memories from our on-going expectation of daily affection; our sadness blossoms in tears and sighs, in groans too deep for words by which the Holy Spirit adds divine support to our mortal mourning. In all this, though, our sorrow is shot through with the signs of a greatness that attends our grief and waits it out. For the sorrow that comes with a friend’s fidelity, with intimate memory, with affection, with wordless depths of devotion, bespeak death’s effect; but devotion, affection, memory, fidelity, all these good things outlast the power of death. Death cannot touch love, but love always endures and shines and wraps a warm blanket over our shoulders, sets a table for us in the presence of our enemies, offers us a heartening cup and welcomes us to a comfortable home.
These homely gestures of love undergird the solidarity that death shivers; but tomorrow we will open the doors again, we will welcome new strangers, we will share bread and wine. The steady rhythm of hospitality and prayer sustain our hope, express our hope, nourish our hope, and share our hope with everyone whose spirit has been stricken. Ours, too — for our readiness to share comfort opens us to sharing grief, and the deep, enduring ties of common life unite us in grief as much as in comfort. Together we comfort the mournful; together we mourn; together we receive comfort; together we offer comfort, and so, as the novelist says, so it goes.
Tonight makes fools of us all, but we are not entirely foolish; for we gather tonight not only to grieve, but also to share with one another the love and constancy God first shared with us, the self-giving love with which God brought us to life and raised us up, the love for which God made a dwelling-place among us and took on our death; and sharing our presence to one another tonight, sharing in God’s presence to us, we re-awaken in our hearts the slumbering assurance that the faithful live on in God’s hand, that they thrive free of the burdens and cares trouble our mortality. In this sacrament of trust in God, we understand the truth that grace and mercy are upon Anne and upon us all. Our eyes meet, and we glimpse, beyond the tears, the radiant promise of a new home where every tear is wiped away, every joy amplified, every life burnished and glorious with loveliness, every fool exalted to perfect communion with God. We mortals may be fools in our mortality, but in our imperishable hope and faith, we rise victorious over death, our hope crowned with immortality, our love perfected in grace, and finally, truly, eternally at peace. Tonight’s sorrow makes us fools; tonight’s communion makes us sharers with God in immortality; tomorrow’s light sets us free from every torment, free from mourning and crying and pain, free to rise reunited with Anne and with one another to sing love’s glory in harmony without end.