Monday, August 27, 2007

Clarke Bassett Memorial Eucharist

The Memorial Eucharist for
J. Clarke Bassett
(Jan. 29, 1928 – Aug. 25, 2008)
Mon. August 27, 2007
The Chapel of the Resurrection
Gethsemane Episcopal Cathedral
Fargo, North Dakota

Hebrews 12.18-29
I am happy to be here this morning to commemorate the life of Clarke Bassett and to commend this wonderful man to God. I only got to meet Clarke twice, once the week before last and once again last Thursday. The first time we shared Holy Communion together, which was beautiful and, on that occasion, I anointed him. The second time we just shared a prayer together. But, on that last occasion, I got to see a glimpse, I think, of the real Clarke. He was bright and cheery and fully aware of everything. And he was definitely happy to see me. It was good for me to see him like that.

Now I suspect that if Clarke were here this morning, he would not want me to be up here making him out to be some kind of saint. But I can say that I am very happy to have met Clarke and to have walked with him just a little while anyway.

And I have no doubt that Clarke is with us here this morning. I am of the belief that what separates us who are alive and breathing here on earth from those who are now in the so-called “nearer presence of God” is a thin one. And because of that belief, I take a certain comfort in the fact Clarke is close to us this morning. He is here, in our midst, celebrating his life with us.
And we should truly celebrate his life. It was a life full of meaning and purpose. And, although it is no doubt hard to face the fact that we are distances from him, we can take some consolation in the fact that although Clarke has shed this so-called “mortal coil,” he has now entered into that presence of God.

In our reading today from Hebrews we hear God described as a “consuming fire.” I love that image. Oftentimes in the Bible, we find God appearing to humans in the form of fire or surrounded by flames. When God appears to Moses as a fire in the Burning Bush, Moses is frightened by it, but the Voice that speaks to Moses from the fire is a soothing and consoling one. Likewise, when the Israelites were freed from bondage in Egypt, they went into the desert led by God who appeared to them as a Pillar of Fire. Even at the Resurrection of Christ, we find that after the gloom and darkness of Jesus’ death on the cross on that miserable Friday afternoon, on Easter Sunday morning, Christ appears as a burning light—as blinding fire of glory—which burns away the darkness of death and fear.

What this shows us is that God is a God who is more than just some benevolent being sitting on a distant throne in heaven. God is a God of energy—sometimes frightening energy—but energy nonetheless. God is a God who acts in our lives, who comes into our midst like a “consuming fire” and burns way all of those things that might separate us from God. And as frightening as this image is of God—a consuming fire can be frightening, it consumes, it burns—we also know God is a God consumed with a fire of love and goodness.

What I love about being an Episcopalian is that our Prayer Book helps us to articulate what we believe. Whenever I am asked, “What do Episcopalians believe?” I say, “We believe what we pray.” We’re not big on dogma and rules. We’re not caught up in the letter of the law or preaching a literal interpretation of the Bible. But we are big on liturgy and prayer and worship. Our Prayer Book in many ways defines what we believe. And so when I’m asked “What do Episcopalians believe about life after death?” I say, “Look at our Prayer Book. Look at what it says. And that is what we believe."

Later in this service, we will all pray the same words together. As we commend Clarke to Christ’s loving and merciful arms, we will pray,

Give rest, O Christ, to your servant with your saints,
where sorrow and pain are no more,
neither sighing, but life eternal.

It is easy for us to say those words without really thinking about them. But those are not light words. Those are words that take on deeper meaning for us now than maybe at any other time. Where Clarke is now—in those caring and able hands of Christ—there is no sorrow or pain. There is no sighing. But there is life eternal. It is a time in which, even at the grave, we—whoa re left behind—can make our song of alleluia. Because we know that Clarke and all our loved ones have been received into Christ’s arms of mercy, into Christ’s “blessed rest of everlasting peace.”
This is what we cling to on a day like today. This is where we find our strength. This what gets us through this temporary—and I stress it is temporary—separation from Clarke. We know that—despite the pain and the frustration, despite the sorrow we all feel—somehow, in the end, Christ is with us and Christ is with Clarke and that makes all the difference. For Clarke, sorrow and pain are no more. Rather, Clarke has life eternal.

And that is what awaits us as well. We might not be able to say “Alleluia” with any real enthusiasm today. But we can find a glimmer of light—of that all consuming fire of God—in the darkness of this day. And in that burning, consuming fire is Christ, and in that light Christ is holding Clarke firmly to himself.

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