Thursday, October 14, 2010

Memorial Service for Hale Laybourn

The Memorial Service for
Hale Laybourn
(July 20, 1923+September 16, 2010)
Isaiah 25.6-9

+ Occasionally, people come into our lives who change our lives and make differences in our lives. Although I did not know Hale, from what I have heard about him, he was one of those people who made a difference in the world. We just heard Larry Gauper speak about the differences he made with his business. But I can tell you, as I look back through the history of this church, that Hale was also a person of great faith.

Back in 1971, when St. Stephen’s went from mission status (which meant it was dependent upon the diocese) to parish status (when it officially became independent) Hale was at the forefront of this very important transition. At the time, he was the Senior Warden. In fact, in the Narthex, you will see the framed document of when St. Stephen’s became a parish. On that document, Hale’s signature is the first one on that page.

St. Stephen’s, since 1971, has changed considerably. There have ebbs and flows. At this very moment in its history, it is a time of growth and stability. We are a parish that is truly alive. And most people can feel that life and energy when they come through the door. And none of this life and energy could’ve happened without those brave and forward-thinking people back in 1971 who signed that document.

Being an Episcopalian was important to Hale. We know this not always by what he said, but often but what he did. We saw how important his faith was to him by the work he did in the church. And as an Episcopalian, 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 moment, was a service of great consolation to Hale in his life. And Hale, 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 at his death. 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 what we do in church—on Sunday mornings, during our funeral services, at any time we gather together to pray and to sing

At the beginning of this service, we heard that wonderful hymn,” Jerusalem, my happy home.” I have always loved this hymn. And one of the lines I’ve always loved is that second verse to the hymn:

“Thy saints are crowned with glory great;
They see God face to face;
They triumphant still, they still rejoice
In that most happy place.”

Those words truly do console us in times like this. They give us strength and hope to go on. And for someone who loved music as much as Hale did, it is easy for us to imagine him still singing those words in that “most happy place.”

We also find this hope in that wonderful place permeating through the words of this funeral service. 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.Also, we Episcopalians do something few other non-Roman Catholic denominations do: we actually pray for our deceased. While most Lutherans, Presbyterians and Methodists make a point of specifically not praying 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,“Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to you our brother, Hale, who was reborn by water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism.”These words and images and sentiments make our liturgy so important and help it to carry the weight it does. That’s why I always 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. I am in the habit of praying the Prayers at the Time of Death, found in the Prayer Book, for anyone when I hear they have passed. About a month ago, when I heard of Hale’s death, I prayed those prayers for him that day. One of those prayers is one of the most beautiful you can find in the Prayer Book (and that’s saying a lot since there some beautiful prayers in the Prayer Book). The prayer I prayed for Hale that day was this:

“Almighty God…before whom live all who die in the Lord: receive our brother Hale into the courts of your heavenly dwelling. Let his heart and soul now ring out in joy to you, O Lord, the living God, and the God those who live…”
It was a perfect prayer for Hale. On that day Hale left us, he was truly received into the courts of God’s heavenly dwelling. In that moment, God welcomed him into that place that lay ahead for him—a place of unending, glorious life.

This is the consolation we can take away from today. In that place—that wonderful glorious place, promised to us in scripture, in liturgy and in song—Hale is now fully and completely himself. He is 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. But like the illnesses that lead to death, our feelings of loss are only temporary as well. All of our pains and losses will pass away. Our hope in this fact helps get us through. This knowledge is where we find our strength—in our faith that promises us an end to our sorrows, to our loss.

In our reading from Isaiah, we heard

“God will swallow up death for ever.
Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces…”

This is what scripture allows us to glimpse. This is what liturgy allows us to look forward to. This is what hymns allow us to celebrate in music and song. It is a faith that can tell us with a startling reality that every tear we shed will one day be dried by God and every pain we have will disappear. Hale 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, we will sing a beautiful song—the “Song of Farewell.” The words are traditional words—often the priest says them on the way out of the church after a funeral if there is no final hymn. In that hymn we will sing,“Come to his aid, O saints of God,
Come meet him, angels of the Lord.
Receive his soul, O holy ones;
Present him now to God, most High.

On September 16, the saints of God came to Hale’s aid. On that day, angels met him and led him to that Jerusalem, that happy home. On that day, we was presented to God, Most High. 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 Hale is in that happy, joyful place of light and music. Let us take consolation in that paradise to which he has been received by saints 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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