(Aug. 9, 1940-Jan. 7, 2015)
Jan. 16, 2015
+ I am going to brutally honest with you this morning. I don’t want to be here. None of us want to be here. I hate the fact that I have to be here this morning, saying goodbye to Rick Holbrook. And I can say, in all honesty, I’m angry.
I am angry at an illness like ALS. I am angry and frustrated over the fact that there is an illness like this. And I am very angry that ALS is what took Rick. I can be angry. I can say I don’t want to be here. I know many of you are angry. And I know Rick was angry about this disease.
But, as Rick showed in his life, and we should all learn from his lesson, we can’t let our anger get the better of us. Anger did not get the better of Rick.
And as frustrated as I am over his disease, as sad as I am this morning about the fact that Rick is not here with us, I am able to take consolation, as we all are. Our consolations might seem few and far between in this moment. But they are there. We find consolation in the fact that Rick did not have to suffer more than he did. There were much harder days ahead. Rick knew that. Sandy knew that. We all knew that. And Rick was spared those harder days.
We also find consolation today in our faith—a faith that Rick certainly held close to him, even in these last months. For Rick, his faith was strong. He was committed. His faith, in many ways, was like him. He didn’t make a big deal about it. But quietly, strongly, firmly, it was there.
As Sandy and I discussed this service, we went through our scripture options which the Book of Common prayer suggests to us. And none of them seemed right, as least our Gospel readings didn’t seem right for this particular occasion.
Finally, after all of our discussion of Rick’s deep passion or birding, I thought of the Gospel we actually heard this morning from Deacon Charlotte. It’s a great Gospel reading. It is Jesus the Poet as his poetic best (he sounds almost like Walt Whitman):
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”
Rick definitely understood this scripture. He saw it lived out in his own life. He saw those birds, who were fed, who were provided by their loving God. And, ultimately, we can say, that Rick was provided for. He was taken care of. And all of us here, this morning, know that his value to all of us was truly great.
Rick was a strong, independent person, to say the least. We saw it in his life. And he was saw it in his death. We can be angry about his death today. We can say, it was unfair. Because it was.
But what we can’t say this morning is that the ALS was somehow victorious in all of this. Because it wasn’t. It didn’t win out. The fact that Rick is beyond all of that—beyond the disease, beyond the suffering, beyond the steady, consistent loss of that disease—that is the true sign of victory. ALS was not victorious.
Who is victorious? Christ was and is victorious. And Rick, in Christ, bolstered by his faith in Christ, is victorious as well. In this moment, and Rick has no losses. But only gain. Glorious, wonderful gain.
See, that Gospel reading is right on. Do not worry about this life, and all that this life can throw at you. Even if it is illness, and loss, and death. Don’t worry. Because we are provided for. We are cared for. We are loved—and loved deeply. Because, to our God, we are valuable.
That is the lesson we take away from today. That is the lesson Rick is teaching us , even now, in this sad moment.
One of the thing I loved about being an Episcopalian, is our great liturgy. The words of our worship services really do a great job of getting right to heart of the matter. And this funeral service is no exception to that rule.
At the end of this service, we will hear those wonderful words of defiance in the face of death.
All of us go down
to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia,
Now those words might seem archaic to some people. We’ve heard those words so many times probably that they don’t mean anything anymore. But, if you listen closely, they are words of defiance. They are words of victory. They are words that say, for us, we are cared for, and provided for and loved, just as Rick was. Those words speak to us and tell us that, even in the face of all this, we can, like Rick, carry ourselves with integrity, bolstered by our faith.
Even in the face of whatever life may throw at me, we can almost hear Rick say, I will not let those things win. I will not let ALS win. I will not let even death win.
“…yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia,
Even you, death, will not win out over me. Even in the face of these awful things, I will face you with strength and a sense of victory. And, because I have faith, because I am loved and I have loved, you will not defeat me.
Today, all that Rick Holbrook was to us—that man of quiet strength and integrity—all of that is not lost. It is not gone. Death has not swallowed that up. Rather all of that is alive and dwells with us who will miss him. And it dwells in Light inaccessible. Rick dwells in a place of peace and joy, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting. And for us who are left, we know that it awaits us as well.
See, Rick is still showing us the way forward. He is showing us by his very life and faith, and even his death, how to face these hardships life throws at us. He is even showing us how to meet these days ahead—these days in which we now must struggle with a life in which Rick is not here with us physically any more. He is showing us to face it all with our heads held high, bolstered by our faith and our integrity. He is showing us that, in the midst of all of these hardships, we must do so with class and dignity and strength.
So, today, yes we are sad. Yes, we are in pain over this loss. Yes, we ache deeply in our hearts and in our souls. But we are also thankful today. We are thankful for this man whom God has been gracious to let us know. We are grateful for all he has given us in our own lives.
See, even we too, today, are defiant. We too are loved, and taken care of. We too know that we are of great value and, like the birds of the air, we will be cared for. There is no need to worry. Nothing this life throws at us will defeat us.
But rather, with all this sadness, with all this pain, we can still, like Rick, hold ourselves in strength, Yes, even now, even here at that grave, here in the face of sadness and loss, we sing victoriously: