Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Requiem Eucharist for Lola Cooke

Lola Cooke
(Dec. 3, 1909 - Jan. 12, 2009)
Jan. 17, 2009
Gethsemane Episcopal Cathedral

John 14.1
I am happy to be here this morning to commemorate the long and wonderful life of Lola Cooke and to commend this wonderful woman to God. I got to know Lola over the last few years. When I was a priest here at Gethsemane Cathedral, I brought her Holy Communion on a few occasions at Rosewood. And in those moments, we had some very meaningful times. I will always cherish those moments when we shared Holy Communion with each other. I will cherish those memories because, with Lola, I was able to see that she had a deep and meaningful faith life. And much of that faith was found in something as basic and beautiful as Holy Communion.

When we think of Holy Communion, we think of basic elements. We think bread and we think of wine. For us Episcopalians, through these basic elements, we are able to find a conduit. Our belief, as Episcopalians, is that Jesus is truly and fully present in the Bread and the Wine following Consecration in the Eucharistic Prayer. And when we eat this Bread and drink this Wine, we are receiving Jesus in them. Or as the 1929 Book of Common Prayer’s Catechism tells us, we receive the “Body and Blood of Christ, which are spiritually taken and received by the faithful in the Lord’s Supper.”

This certainly was what Lola believed. For Lola, this service we are about to celebrate together was a conduit. It was a gateway for her in which God came to her. And for Episcopalians like Lola, the liturgy we find in our Prayer Book was very important.

I am very happy that we are celebrating this service according to the 1928 version of the Book of Common Prayer. This was THE Prayer Book for Episcopalians from 1928 to 1979. This was the Prayer Book Lola cherished and held dear. And in this Book, she found meaning and she found God.

We, this morning, have varied a bit from the strict Prayer Book Burial Service. In “the day,” this service was about as short and basic as a service could get. I recently read a biography of the poet Edward Arlington Robinson. When Robinson died in April 1935, his funeral was held at St. George’s Protestant Episcopal Church on East Sixteenth Street in New York City. The service was 15 minutes long. There was no music. And there was no eulogy. In fact, there was never a eulogy at an Episcopal Burial Service before 1979. In fact, one could attend a funeral service in an Episcopal Church in those days and never hear the deceased person’s name mentioned once in the whole service.

Today, we have strayed a bit from that rule. We do hear Lola’s name in this service. We are praying for her by name today. You are getting a homily. But for the most, this is the service that Lola would’ve wanted for herself. And, in a few moments, we will be celebrating Holy Communion with each other, just as she did when I visited her at Rosewood.

We too will soon be partaking of these basic elements of Bread and Wine and, in them, we too will be receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus, just as Lola did in her life. What we find in this service of Holy Communion is more than just a quaint liturgy from by-gone years. In this liturgy, in this celebration of Jesus’ Presence with us, we are able to glimpse what awaits us all. In this celebration, we are able to catch a glimpse of that place in which Lola now lives and dwells. In this service, we will hear in a few moments those wonderful words,

“…with Angels and Archangels and all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify [God’s] glorious Name…”

In this service, we find the veil between this world and the world in which Lola now lives lifted for a moment. We find angels in our midst. And we find ourselves worshipping God along with that “company of heaven”—that company of which Lola is now a part.

You can see now why Episcopalians take their liturgy very seriously. And you can understand now why the Episcopal service was so important to Lola. For us Christians, this service is a reflection of the hope and longing we have for a life that continues on after our bodies have died. We might not find specific answers to our questions of what awaits us. What awaits us, according to this liturgy, is very much a mystery. But it is a certain mystery—it is a place truly exists beyond our deepest longing and hopes. And it is a place in which we continue to grow. In this service we will pray that Lola “may go from strength to strength, in the life of perfect service, in [God’s] heavenly kingdom.”

So, on this day in which we remember and commemorate this long and vital life, we do so with a knowledge that what Lola hoped in and longed for, she has gained. And we can also hope, as she did, to be a part of that company of heaven. Lola knew this faith in her own life and we too can cling to it in a time like this. It is in a moment like this that I am thankful for that time I had with Lola—for that time of Holy Communion with her.

So this morning and in the days to come, let us all take consolation in that faith—that, with Christ, Lola is complete and whole and beautiful at this moment. Today, she has, in he words of the Prayer Book she cherished so deeply, “run with patience the race that [was] set before [her]” and she has received “the crown of glory with fadeth not away.” And let us be glad that one day we too will be sharing with her in that unending joy.

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