Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Memorial Service for John Hagensen

The Memorial Service for
John Hagensen
(June 19, 1957-June 27, 2015)
St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church Fargo, ND
Thursday  July 2, 2015

+ It is a real honor for me to be doing this service this afternoon. As most of you, John was my cousin. Actually, I think we were second cousins, but that doesn’t matter.  I actually didn’t know him all that well until a couple of years. Around the time his mother, my great-aunt Florence died, we had several deep talks. 

I really enjoyed talking with him at that time. We had some great, very in-depth discussions. I don’t think I need to tell anyone here this afternoon that John was….intense.  And those conversations were certainly intense.

One of the things he talked about was the deep faith he had, despite all the things that had happened in his life.  And he talked about his belief that God was, in the end, always good to him.

About a week and a half ago, I went up to see John at Sanford. He wasn’t able to talk because of the tube, and I didn’t want to stay too long because I knew he tired easily. But when I asked him if he wanted me to pray with him, he very enthusiastically nodded. And when I asked him if he would like to be anointed with holy oil, again he nodded.  As I prayed with him and his daughter Britany that day, I was felt that sense of faith in God. And it was a good thing.

So, I am very honored to be here.  I am very honored to be able to help all of us say goodbye to John.  But, I’ll be honest. Even despite the fact that he had been ill for some time, even despite the fact he knew he probably wouldn’t make it through this last bout, it’s still hard to take it all in.

I think many of us feel that way today.  How is it that John is no longer around, somewhere? We are definitely feeling a gap in our lives now that he is no longer with us.  I know these last years were particularly difficult for him, health-wise.  I think the more limited he became physically, the more frustrated he became. For many of us who have suffered from debilitating illnesses, we know what that frustration is like. Those physical limitations, let me tell you, are very hard.  And we now how, as much as we depend upon these mortal bodies, they can also become kind of prisons for us at times.  For those of us who have felt that our bodies have turned against us, we feel a certain sense of betrayal. I think John would’ve understood that sense of betrayal of his body. He would’ve understood that that body of his betrayed him. He would understand how that body of his became a kind for cross for him to bear.

And John knew a few crosses in his life. He bore his share of crosses.  

For that reason, if you notice, there is a crucifix by his urn. 30 years ago in April, my great-aunt Florence gave me that crucifix when I was confirmed (she was my sponsor). When she died in 2012, that same crucifix was on top of her casket. And today, that same crucifix is here with John’s urn.

It’s a good symbol for us today.  Yes, he understood what that cross stood for. He understood what bearing a cross meant.  He bore some crosses in his life.

But today, we get to take some consolation too. Today, for John, that is all behind him. That betrayal of his body. The frustration. That limiting of his life.  The crosses in his life.

We can rejoice today, even in the midst of our sadness,  in the fact that John is there, on the other side of that “veil” that separates those of us who are still here with those who have gone before us. We rejoice today in the fact that that that mortal body of his is no longer an issue for him. He has been freed from it. There are no physical limits for him in this moment.  It is always important to be reminded sometimes that we are more than these physical bodies.

I like to share one of my favorite quotes from the great French Jesuit priest and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Teilhard one famously made the statement that we are not physical beings have spiritual experiences.  We are in fact spiritual beings have a physical experience.  We are spirits, here and now, having this physical experience. I love that. And I think John would’ve liked that and would’ve understood it perfectly.

I like that quote because it shows us that we are, in very our essence, spirit. Certain John was spirit in his essence. Even when he couldn’t talk on that last Sunday I saw him, there was much spirit in his eyes.

Yes, these physical experiences can great and wonderful sometimes, but sometimes, they can be hard and painful. And that just because these mortal bodies fail us and eventually lie in dust, we—in our essence, in our very truest selves—live on.  These physical experiences are only temporary. But our spirit goes on.  I’ve thought a lot about that in these days since John left us.

In our scripture reading from the book of Revelation today,  we get a glimpse of what awaits us on the other side of that veil, when we are freed from these bodies.  We hear the Apostle John saying,

“God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more...”
I love that image! I love to take consolation in the fact that there will be a day, for all of us, when death will be no more, mourning and crying and pain will be no more. I  look forward to that time when those things will pass away and we will not have to deal with them anymore.  I look forward to a time when there will be nothing to separate us from each other, when all the cares and worries and petty issues in our lives here and now, in this world, will be washed away and gone for good. I look forward to that day when our relationships will be restored and our illnesses healed and everything negative in our lives has been washed away once and for all.

Today, this afternoon, John is in that place—in that place where death no longer exists. He is in that place where he is fully and completely alive—where is himself.  He is a place where all the bad things of his life have been washed away, and he is now purely and fully and completely himself—pure spirit.  

Now, for us, who are left behind, for us who cared for John and who will miss him, this all can be painful. But, our consolation is that the place in which John now dwells—that place of light and joy and unending life—that place awaits us as well. Yes, now we have tears in our eyes. Yes, now feel real sadness. Yes, now, in our lives, we know true pain.

But our consolation today is in the fact that in that other place, that place of light, that place in which our spirits will dwell, there will never again be pain. There will never again be tears. There will never again be sadness.

That is our consolation today. That is how we move from here into the rest of our lives. That is how we go forward. We go forward knowing full well that we are truly spirits having a temporary physical experience.  This is what gets us through this awful time in which John is not with us anymore.   This is where we find our strength—in our faith that promises us an end to our sorrows, to our loss. It is a faith that can tell us with a startling reality that every tear we shed—and we all shed our share of tears in this life, John knew that very well in his life—every tear will one day be dried and every heartache will disappear. It will.

And on that great and glorious day, we will awake into that place of joy and gladness and light and life. And none of that will ever be taken from us again.  So this morning and in the days to come, let us all take consolation in that faith that John is complete and whole in this moment.

I will miss John. We all will miss him.  But, even in the midst of this mourning, even in the midst of these tears, I know. I know that where he is, we too will one day be. And what is incomplete now, will be complete once again.

So, even with these tears, even with this pain, let us be glad. Let us be glad that one day we too will be sharing with John in that joy, that light, in that place where all pain and sadness and death will never again exist.   

Into paradise may the angels lead you, John. At your coming may the martyrs receive you, and bring you into the holy city Jerusalem.


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