Tuesday, April 15, 2008

John Meader Requiem Eucharist

John Meader(August 29, 1927 - April 11, 2008)
April 16, 2008
Gethsemane Episcopal Cathedral

John 14.1-6
As most of you know, John was a life-long Episcopalian. He was active at both St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Detroit Lakes, and at St. Barnabas on the Desert in Scottsdale, Arizona, a church I was privileged to visit just a few weeks. The Episcopal Church was very important to John and it defined and shaped his faith in God.

When John’s daughters and I were talking the other day, they mentioned that John often led Morning Prayer in the churches he attended. He often stepped up on those occasions when priests were, for whatever reasons, unavailable and actually led the service.

The Book of Common Prayer—this book from which we are worshipping this morning—was very important to him, as it is to all Episcopalians. This book helps us to pray, helps us to understand God and God’s dealings in our lives. It is a book that, with the Bible, helps us to grow closer to God in our devotional life.

No doubt, this very service that we are participating in at this moments, was a service of great consolation to John in his life. And John, no doubt, would commend the words of this service to us as a way of consoling ourselves and making sense of the loss and sadness we are feeling this morning.

The fact is, we can take great hope in our liturgy—in the actual words of this service. Certainly, for us Episcopalians, we place huge importance on liturgy. That is why most Episcopal churches discourage eulogies at the actual funeral service.

In some churches these days, there are often, in addition to the sermon, a series of eulogies from family and friends. They are often beautiful sentiments and I, for one, have often enjoyed hearing them. Most Episcopal churches however discourage eulogies, and that is part of the reason why we will have a time for eulogies at the reception following this service. In fact, in the 1928 Prayer Book, the one John was no doubt very familiar with, it was typical that not even a sermon, much less a eulogy, would ever have been preached during an Episcopal funeral.

I recently read a biography of the author John Steinbeck. When Steinbeck died in 1968, his funeral was held at St. James Episcopal Church in New York City. The service itself lasted fifteen minutes. And not once, throughout that service, was Steinbeck’s name mentioned.

No doubt, most of us cringe when we hear that. This is so very much contradictory to our usual experience of funerals.

Luckily, we’ve revised that a bit with our current Prayer Book, which was revised in 1979. We do actually mention the person for whom we are praying by name. We allow a sermon. But we still discourage eulogies, because we hope that the words of the service itself will be consolation enough for family and friends. The words of the service say everything we can ever hope to say about dying and about rising to new life following death.

For most preachers, anything we say in addition to the words of the liturgy simply pale in comparison. In fact, as we celebrate this service together, I invite you to pay special attention to the words we say together.

For example, the words we used at the beginning—words that actually come from the Gospel of John—are incredible, and have been used to begin Anglican funerals since 1549:

I am Resurrection and I am Life, says the Lord.Whoever has faith in me shall have life,even though he die.And everyone who has life,and has committed himself to me in faith,shall not die for ever.

We often don’t think too much about those words, but they really do tell us everything we could hope to hear about death. In Jesus, we have Resurrection and Life. With faith in Jesus, even though we will die in our bodies, we shall live. And in living, we will live forever with him.

Pay close attention also to the prayers we say at he commendation at the end of the service when we say together,

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

“…where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.”

Those are not light words. Those are words that pack a punch and have deep meaning for anyone who mourns.

Also, we Episcopalians do something few other non-Roman Catholic denominations do: we actually pray for the deceased. While most Lutherans, Presbyterians and Methodists make a point of not praying specifically for the person who has passed away, we very unashamedly do. In a few moments, at the end of the Prayers of the People, we will pray,

“Father of all, we pray to you for John, and for all those whom we love and see no longer.”

It’s words and images and sentiments such as these that make our liturgy so important and carry the weight it does. That’s why I always I encourage people to take these service programs with them following the service and read through these words when they’re feeling sad.

Often people tell me that they have taken the Episcopal funeral service home with them and replaced the name in the program with one of their own loved ones and that using these prayers have helped them in their own grief and sorrow. After all, they are full of consolation and hope. They truly do give us a glimpse of what awaits all of us.

This liturgy carries great meaning at other times as well. On Friday, when I gathered with the family at John’s bedside to say some prayers, one of the prayers we prayed was this one. It comes from the Book of Common Prayer for the Anglican Church of New Zealand. The prayer we prayed Friday afternoon was this:

God of the present moment,
God who in Jesus stills the storm and soothes the frantic heart;
bring hope and courage to your servant.
Make him the equal of whatever lies ahead for him.
For your will is wholeness.
You are God and we trust you.

It was a perfect prayer for John on Friday. God, who in that present moment, God, who stills storms and soothes hearts that are frantic, was, at that moment, brining hope and courage to John. In that moment, God made John the equal of what lay ahead for him—life, unending, glorious life.

That prayer could also be used for us as well today. As we head into these days without John, we also ask our God, who is with us in this present moment, to still the storm of our mourning and to soothe whatever frantic hearts we may have in the wake of our loss. We ask God at this time to bring us hope and courage. And we truly do ask God in our liturgy to make us the equal of what lies ahead for us in these days to come.

We, also, in our liturgy, allow for the reading of the scriptures. I am also especially happy that the family chose this particular gospel reading for this service this afternoon. In it, we find Jesus allowing us a glimpse of what awaits us. We are able to see, for a moment, the Father’s house and how in that house there are many rooms awaiting us. In older translations of this scripture, we hear the word “mansions” used. In my Father’s house there are many mansions. I like that idea of mansions. After all, would a God of love provide us, who made it through the perils of this life, with anything less than a mansion? Would God, who loved John so much, provide him with anything less than a mansion? I don’t think so. And I am fully certain that God has provided a mansion for John.

Can you imagine what that place must be like? Can you imagine the joy he must feel right this moment? Can you imagine the laughter he is experiencing.

This is the consolation we can take away from today. In that place—that wonderful glorious place, promised to us in scripture and in liturgy—John is now fully and completely himself. He is whole.

In that Prayer from the New Zealand Prayer Book that I prayed with John and his family on Friday, we prayed,

Your will, O God, is wholeness.

Wholeness means just that—completeness. Whatever imperfections we might have in this world, whatever in this life prevented us from being who we are truly meant to be, are made whole by God.

And today, we can take great consolation in the fact that that petition has been answered for John. God has made John whole.

Of course that doesn’t make any of this any easier for those who are left behind. Whenever anyone we love dies, we are going to feel pain. That’s just a part of life. But like the illnesses that lead to death, our feelings of loss are only temporary as well. They too will pass away. This is what gets us through. This is where we find our strength—in our faith that promises us an end to our sorrows, to our loss. This is what scripture allows us to glimpse. This is what liturgy allows us to look forward to. It is a faith that can tell us with a startling reality that every tear we shed—and we all shed our share of tears in this life, as I’m sure John would be quick to tell you—will one day be dried and every heartache will disappear like a bad dream upon awakening.

John knew this faith in his own life and we too can cling to it in a time like this.

At the end of this service, as we take John’s casket out to the hearse, the priests will pray a wonderful verse that we say now to John, but, one day, will be said for all of us as well.

“Into paradise may the angels lead you. At your coming may the martyrs receive you, and bring you into the holy city Jerusalem.”

On Friday, John was received into that paradise. On Friday, angels led him to that holy city Jerusalem. On Friday, the martyrs received and brought him home.

One day we too will be received there as well. One day, we too will experience that wonderful paradise.

So this morning and in the days to come, let us all take consolation in that faith that John is complete and whole and beautiful at this very moment and for every moment to come form now on. Let us take consolation in that paradise to which he has been received by martyrs and angels. And let us be glad that one day we too will be there as well, sharing with him in that joy that will never end.

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