Thursday, May 9, 2013

The funeral for Jack Schwer

Jack Schwer

(August 29, 1925 – May 5, 2013)
Hanson Runsvold Funeral Home
May 9, 2013

+ A few days ago, when I first heard that Jack had died, Janet and I were discussing this service. Janet told me that Jack had asked that, for this service, we use the Burial Office from the 1928 version of the Book of Common Prayer. I am always happy to do this service. I love it. I think the language and the beauty of this service says so much. Probably more than any sermon can.
This, of course, was THE Prayer Book for Episcopalians from 1928 to 1979.

 This was the Prayer Book Jack cherished and held dear. And in this Book, he found meaning and he found God.

We, this afternoon, have varied a bit from the strict Prayer Book Burial Service.  Back in “the day,” this service was about as short and basic as a service could get. I once 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.  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 actually hear Jack’s name in this service. We are praying for him by name today.  And you are getting this homily. But for the most, this is the service that Jack would’ve wanted for himself.

When Janet and I were planning this service on Tuesday morning, I mentioned that we Episcopalians can be somewhat reticent regarding our faith. We know what we believe. But we’re not always comfortable talking about it or articulating it. I mentioned at that time that we Episcopalians have a saying. If you ever want to know what Episcopalians believe, it’s as simple as this: we believe what we pray. In other words, our faith is contained right here in the Book of Common Prayer.
Now, for somebody like Jack, he would have been uncomfortable talking about his faith. But he was faithful. He was a life-long, loyal Episcopalian. And this service that we are praying this afternoon contains everything he, no doubt, would have believed in his life.
In this service we begin with those wonderful words that have begun every Anglican and Episcopal funeral service since at least 1600s.
“ I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord;
he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live;
and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.”

Those are not light words. Those are words that speak loud and clear to us. And they make clear to us, who believe, that death is not something to fear.

We believe in a God who is resurrection and who is life. And those of us who believe, though we might die, live, and live forever. Jack believed those words. And today, though is gone from us, he lives today. And we can take comfort in that.

As I said earlier, I am happy that Jack chose this service for himself.  This service is important and meaningful.  In this service, we truly find the veil between this world and the world in which Jack 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 Jack is now a part.

You can see now why Episcopalians take their liturgy very seriously. And you can understand now why this Episcopal service was so important to Jack.

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, according to the Book of Common Prayer, is very much a mystery. But it is a certain mystery—it is a place that 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 Jack “may go from strength to strength, in the life of perfect service, in [God’s] heavenly kingdom.” It is wonderful to think that where Jack is right and where each of us will be one day, we will continue to grow, that we go from strength to strength, that our journey continues there, in some wonderful and beautiful way.

So, on this day in which we remember and commemorate Jack’s life, we do so with a knowledge that what he very quietly hoped in and longed for, he has gained. And we can also hope, as he did, to be a part of that company of heaven one day.  Jack knew this faith in his own life and we too can cling to it in a time like this.

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




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