Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Funeral Liturgy for Patricia Butler

Patricia A. Butler
(March 17, 1924– March 25, 2015)
April 2, 2015

+I am very grateful this morning. I am grateful for the fact that we get this opportunity to  commemorate the life of  Pat Butler and to commend this wonderful woman to God. She was an amazing woman.

I first got to know Pat not long after I first came to St. Stephen’s in 2008. I went over to her home and visited her. And we had a great conversation about her life, about Fargo in 1950s and 1960s, and found out we knew many of the same people.

Over the years, she would often talk about the first years of this congregation of St. Stephen’s. She was one of the charter members of this congregation when it was founded in 1957. And this church was certainly very important to her.

We at St. Stephen’s are very grateful for all that Pat Butler did to make our congregation what it is.  She was a remarkable woman—and I don’t say that lightly. She was a woman of great strength and of contagious warmth.  Whenever I would come and visit her, she would look at me with that brilliant spark in her eyes and would welcome me as though she had known me all her life.  I liked that.

Now I know that if Pat were here this morning, she would be poo-pooing me to be quiet about all these glowing comments about her.  Because in addition to being a strong person—she was also pretty modest.  

And, I can say in all honesty, that she really is with us here this morning.  I am of the 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 a thin one.  And because of that belief, I take a certain comfort in the fact Pat is close to us today.  She is here, in our midst, celebrating her life with us. And we should truly celebrate her life.  It was a good life.  It was a life full of meaning and purpose. And it was a life full of faith in God.

As her priest, I can tell you that, for Pat, her faith was important to her and I think that faith continues on with those of us who are here celebrating her life.

In this morning’s Gospel reading, we hear Jesus say those wonderful warm words of welcome.

“In my Father’s place there are many mansions.”

In other translations, we hear, instead of mansions, “dwelling places.” In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.  I like that idea of mansions better. After all, would a God of love provide us, who made it through the perils of this life, with anything less than a mansion? Would God provide Pat with anything less than a mansion?  I don’t think so. And I am fully certain that God has indeed provided a mansion for Pat.

That is probably the best consolation we can take away from today. After all, that wonderful life of hers is not over by any means.  It has only blossomed into its fullest meaning. In God—in the God she loved and served—Pat is now fully and completely herself.  She is, in this moment,  whole.

Of course that doesn’t make any of this any easier for those who are left behind. I, for one, am going to miss her.  I am going to miss my visits with her and sharing Holy Communion with her and hearing her wonderful stories.  Whenever anyone we love dies, we are going to feel pain.  That’s just a part of life.

But like any pain, like any sorrow, our feelings of loss are only temporary as well.  They too will pass away. This is what gets us through.

Our faith shows us that we will see her again. And when we do, it will be glorious.

This is where we find our strength—in our faith that promises us an end to our sorrows, to our loss. That is what this Holy Week is all about.  Yes, Jesus, this week, was betrayed, suffered and was murdered. Those who loved him felt a despair like no other despair. On that Friday afternoon when he died, few of them could ever imagine that there would ever be joy or hope again. And yet, on that Easter morning, their tears were turned to smiles and their sorrow was turned to joy.

Today, it is an unending Easter day for Pat. And that glorious day awaits us as well.  That is what we hope in. That is where our faith lies.

When the Anglican priest and poet George Herbert said, “Christ dries our tears with his grave clothes,” he wasn’t just speaking poetically.

He was saying that, truly, Christ comes to us in the midst of our losses and shows us the way to Life—to a life reborn out of death.  Into a life without end.  It is a faith that can show us with startling reality every tear we shed—and we all shed our share of tears in this life, as I’m sure Pat would tell you—every tear will one day be dried and every heartache will disappear like a bad dream upon awakening.  Pat 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 the fact that I knew Pat—I am thankful for the lessons she taught me—because even now she can help someone like me to understand my faith.

So this morning and in the days to come, let us all take consolation in that faith—that, with God, Pat is complete and whole and beautiful at this moment.  

Today, it is Easter morning for Pat—an Easter morning that will never end.  And let us be glad that one day we too will be sharing with her in that unending joy.  Amen.

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