Saturday, March 26, 2016

Good Friday Service: Witness to the Resurrection

I don't usually post funeral sermons, but yesterday's, given that it was on Good Friday, was an unusual one for me.  As it turns out, Good Friday is a good day for a Christian funeral.  Names have been changed, but not the significance of the narrative.


Here we are, our sanctuary bare except for the black draping hung on the cross and the black paraments on communion table and pulpit, all to remind us that it is Good Friday, the first day of the Triduum, the week-end on which we mark the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The most solemn day of all days of the Christian year.  The day on which, 2,000 years ago, Jesus’ followers believed that their hopes had been destroyed, and that the Christ in whom they had placed their confidence was gone forever.
But here we are, with that hope and confidence restored, and with the sure knowledge that , although it is black and bleak today, Dan has gone ahead of us.  We, on Good Friday, are consumed by the sorrow of the crucifixion, and by the grief that accompanies the loss of a husband and father, a son and brother, a friend and colleague.  But Dan – Dan has already reached our Easter Sunday destination, that place of resurrection, that place of healing and wholeness, that place in which he lives in the fullness of the presence of God.

I got to know Dan a little over the past several weeks of his life.  I hope his family will bear with me as I recount again how I searched for common ground for conversation.  It was difficult for Dan  to communicate, and the first time I met him, no one was present to offer me any help.  But the next time, his helper Susan showed me a photograph hanging on his wall, a photograph of a moose in the north woods, and I discovered that he and I shared a love of canoeing in the backcountry of Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario.  That led to a discovery of our mutual love of animals, both in the wild and at home, and gradually his story began to unfold.  His family life, his and Joan’s household filled with the activity of children and pets; his love of sports – one day I arrived to find him watching a hockey game and learned that he had played hockey and wrestled in high school; his education; and his career in computer systems analysis.
And then, there was the most recent and most devastating turn in his life – illness.  An illness which imposes such profound limitations on a person filled with physical strength and mental acuity.  A boy who once skated exuberantly across a hockey rink becomes trapped in a small room; a young man who shone in the workplace becomes dependent upon others for every aspect of his care.  There is nothing about this disease that seems right or fair, nothing about it that makes it in any way an acceptable fate – not for anyone, and especially not for anyone with Dan’s gifts.

And yet, in the Christian life, we know, as this Easter week-end so profoundly reminds us, that we are always accompanied by the God in Christ who extends a loving and healing embrace to us. That there is no boundary which God cannot cross. That nothing – neither hardship nor distress, not death, nor life – however we live it --  and not “things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 
I wonder whether Dan, from the depth of a life in which he gradually took on primarily the role of observer, saw, perhaps more clearly than the rest of us do, that love of God that is so persistently present: in those who faithfully cared for him; in Joan’s gifts for music and ministry; in the beauty and energy of their daughter, so engaged in her college life; in the creativity and stories of their son, and his adventures in Japan; and in the world of God’s creation, so evident in his pets and his final trip to the zoo.

Perhaps, even here in this world, Dan saw the edge of both old and new creation, that place where hurt becomes transformed, where healing becomes visible and begins.

We Christians believe that our lives on this earth come to fullness in something we call “salvation,” in a final journey into the heart of the God who loves us, and a reunification with all the saints who have gone before us and those who are yet to come.  Did you know that the English word “salvation” comes from a Latin root which means “healthy” or “safe” or whole?  Think of the related word, “salve,” which means a healing, soothing, ointment.
For those here, for you, Dan’s beloved and loving family and friends, this is a time of loss and grief, a time of mourning someone no longer present as he was only a few days ago.  The loss of a life partner, and all of the sharing and hopes with which a life together began on a wedding day filled with joyous anticipation and no hint of the shadows lying ahead.   The loss of a father to children just becoming adults, young people who will miss his loyalty and guidance and humor as they embark upon their careers and build their own families.  The loss of a cherished son, and the complete alteration of a mother’s life. The loss of a brother with whom memories are shared, memories that only brothers know. For all of you, this means being shaken to your core by the reality of death as we know it here. But for Paul, this is the time of salvation, of healing and wholeness, of the soothing ointment of God’s love poured out for him, God’s child. Paul is now fully the person he was created to be, and he sees the love and the eternal presence of God with a clarity which we cannot.

God never gives up on God’s creation.  God is out to heal creation – these bodies, this world.  God is utterly concerned with both our bodies and our hearts, even our most broken bodies and most broken hearts.  We know this because of Jesus’ arrival among us – Jesus, God in the bodily form of a human being, with a human heart that ached and sorrowed and felt compassion.  And with Jesus’ arrival came the beginning, the inauguration, of God’s reign on earth, of a restored creation, of superabundant life for all.  Superabundant life for Dan.  A healed and whole life with God.
Today is Good Friday, a day on which we are soaked in the horror of the separation which death imposes upon us.  But Sunday is Easter, and on Sunday we will remember, perhaps more powerfully this year than ever before, that with Easter comes resurrection – the old passes away, the broken is healed and the new is born.  When you wake up on Sunday morning, you will know: the victory over death which Jesus accomplished for us all is already reality for Dan – for a healed and whole Dan.

May the Lord bless you and keep you, Dan.  May the face of God shine upon you and grant you peace. Amen.

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