March 24, 1923-June 24, 2014
June 28, 2014
St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church
+ I am very honored to be here, to help commemorate and give thanks for the life of Wally Mayer and to commend this wonderful man to God. I got to know both Wally and Gerene over the last several years, when I officiated at weddings and baptisms for the family. They were a wonderful couple and Wally always carried himself with a sense of dignity and inner strength. I was always impressed by that and by him. I genuinely liked him and it’s obvious many of us this morning felt the same way about him.
Now, saying all of that, I suspect that if Wally were here this afternoon, 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 known Wally and to have walked with him just a little while anyway. And I have no doubt that Wally is with us here this morning. I am of the firm 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 actually a very thin division.
“A [funeral Eucharist] a testament of triumph and hope, for those of us who remain know that we also journey toward the same eternal home…In the Holy Eucharist, which transcends all time and space, we are closest to our faithful departed loved ones, joining our prayers and praises to theirs. We pray for them, as we believe that they pray for us, so that all may be strengthened in their lives of service.”
So, yes, right now, I think we can feel that that separation between us here and those who have passed on is, in this moment, a very thin one. And because of that belief, I take a certain comfort in the fact Wally is close to us this afternoon. He is here, in our midst, celebrating his life with us.
And we should truly celebrate his life. It was a good life. It was a life full of meaning and purpose. And, although it is no doubt hard to face the fact that we are distanced from him, we can take some consolation in the fact that although Wally has shed this so-called “mortal coil,” he has now entered into that loving presence of God.
There is a great image we find in the book of Revelation. We find in the book of Revelation Jesus saying to us,
“It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.”
As difficult as it is in this moment, as difficult as it is to say goodbye to Wally, we are able to find strength in these words. We are able to cling to the fact that, although life is unpredictable, life is beyond our control, it is not beyond Christ’s control. Christ knew us and loved us at our beginning and will know and love us at our end.
As the poet T.S. Eliot wrote, “In my beginning is my end. In my end is my beginning.”
As we mourn this ending, we also take great comfort in the fact that we are also celebrating a new beginning for Wally today. This is what we believe as Christians. This is what we believe as Episcopalians.
What I love about being an Episcopalian is that sometimes we can’t clearly define what it is we believe. Nor should we. We can’t pin it down and examine it too closely. When we do, we find it loses its meaning.
But when 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. Our Book of Common Prayer 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 Book of Common Prayer.”
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 Wally 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. For Wally, in this ending, he has a new beginning—a new and wonderful beginning that awaits all of us as well. Where Wally is right now—in those caring and able hands of Christ—there is no sorrow or pain. There is no sighing. But there is life eternal.
At this time of new beginning, even here at the grave, we—who are left behind—can make our song of alleluia. Because we know that Wally 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 do stress that it is temporary—this temporary separation from Wally. 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 Wally and that makes all the difference. We know that in Christ, what seems like an ending, is actually a wonderful and new beginning. For Wally, sorrow and pain are no more.
In our reading from Revelation we hear Christ’s promise that all our tears will one be wiped away for good. For Wally, his tears have been wiped away. Wally, in this holy moment, has gained 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 in the darkness of this day. It is a glorious Light we find here. Even if it is just a glimmer, it is a bright and wonderful Light. And in that light is Christ, and in that light Christ is holding Wally firmly to himself. And for that we can rejoice. For that, we can say today, in all joy, Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.