(Nov. 4, 1949 – Oct. 4, 2015)
Gethsemane Episcopal Cathedral
October 8, 2015
Wisdom 3.1-5, 9
+ It is a true honor for me to be here this morning, to be a part of this service in which we remember and celebrate this wonderful person, Renee Alsop. When my dear friend, Fr. Mark, asked me to preach a few days he ago, he said to me,
“because of your long relationship with the Alsop family, it will be a moment of grace.”
It is a true grace moment in my life. I’ve always defined grace as one of things God gives us that we don’t ask or even anticipate. And for me, this has been one of those moments.
In fact, I’ve had many grace moments in relation to the Alsop family. The first funeral I ever participated in, back when I was studying to be a priest, was right here at Gethsemane Cathedral, at the funeral for Renee’s mother-in-law, Louise, back in 1999. I knew Renee’s, father-in-law, John, as well. I brought Holy Communion and would greet him when he was living at Waterford (now known as Touchmark), and I participated in his funeral as well.
Of course, a true grace moment in my life was officiating at the wedding of Andy and Jessica. I, strangely enough, knew Jessica for many years before as well, even before I knew the Alsops.
And of course, I had the truly wonderful honor of baptizing Maddie just a few years ago.
So, yes, these have been grace moments in my life.
But, today, I will admit. This is a confession. I do not want to be here. I do not want here to be here, preaching the funeral sermon for Renee Alsop.
When a mutual friend of ours told me on Sunday that Renee had passed, I have to admit that my reaction was not the reaction you would expect from a priest, nor from a Christian, for that matter. My reaction was actually, I have to admit, kind infantile. I said,
“You have got to be kidding me! This is so unfair!”
How, I wondered, did this person who was so full life, so full of vitality, all of a sudden, not be here with us anymore? It is unfair. No doubt many of us feel that way this morning. And that’s all right to feel that way. It’s honest.
Let’s face it: Renee had many years of life and love ahead of her. She had years to travel, to spend with her family. There was so much life ahead.
So, yes, it is horribly unfair. But, for those of us who live by faith, who, like Renee, knew that life is more than just this life, we have great consolation this morning. We simply need to shift our perspective, to see things differently. All that we loved and will miss about Renee—all that life and vitality and love—none of that is gone. None of that is lost. Renee and all that she was to us is now in a place beyond this sadness and loss, beyond the many tears that we will shed. She is in a place of light and unending life and joy. And we will see her again. We will experience that love and joy with her again. And this time, it will not end.
That is our consolation on this day, even in the midst of the seeming unfairness of all this. I love that one of the scriptures we heard this morning was from the Wisdom of Solomon. I love this scripture. There is truly some great wisdom here. And when we hear these words, they really do speak to us in our sadness over Renee.
“In the eyes of the foolish,” we hear Solomon sayd, “[our loved one] seemed to have died,
and their departure to be a disaster.”
There is truth in that. Even for those us who might not consider ourselves “foolish,” the death of our loved ones does seem like disaster at moments.
Solomon goes on, “and their going from us [seems] to be their destruction;
but[…] they are at peace…their hope is full of immortality.”
For Renee, and for all of us who have faith, our hope this morning is full of immortality. We know that death is not eternal, but that our life in God is eternal.
Solomon goes on, and his words are not only about our loved ones who have died, but is also spoken to us who are left behind as well:
“Those who trust in [God] will understand truth,
and the faithful will abide with [God] in love,
because grace and mercy are upon [God’s] holy ones.”
“Grace and mercy are upon God’s holy ones.”
That grace and mercy is, of course, upon Renee in this moment. But that grace and mercy is upon each and every one of this morning. And with that grace and mercy upon us, we know we have the strength to move forward, to go on.
At this end of this service, you will hear these very powerful and amazing words:
“All we go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”
“Alleluia” is a word that encompasses all our faith and hope and mercy. It is a joyous word, that we can say even when everyone tells us we should despair. We have been embraced today by God’s grace and mercy. And because we have, we have faith to go on from the grave. We have the strength, and dare I say even the defiance, to say, in the face of what seems to be loss and death, “Alleluia!”
Even here, now, even in our sadness, even here at the grave, we say it, defiantly, “Alleluia.”
Renee’s life and love are too powerful to be defeated by death. God’s grace and mercy are definitely too powerful to be defeated by death and the grave. With that grace and mercy upon us and upon Renee, we can say, “Alleluia.” And mean it.
I am grateful this morning. I am grateful that I knew Renee. I am grateful that I could say she was a friend. All of here this morning are grateful for all that was Renee was to each of us, a wife, a mother, a mother-in-law, a grandmother, a sister, an aunt, a friend. We should all be grateful for having known her.
But we can also be grateful that our relationship with her does not end today. It will continue on and one day, it will be complete and unending. I hope in that day. I look forward to that wonderful day. And it will be a wonderful day!
The traditional closing sentences for this funeral from the Book of Common Prayer are some very beautiful words. They are:
“Into paradise may the angels lead thee; and at thy coming may the martyrs receive thee, and bring thee into the holy city Jerusalem.”
We are echoing those words today as well.
Into paradise the angels have led thee, Renee.
May all the martyrs have received thee.
Today, you have been brought into the holy city Jerusalem.
One day we too will be received there as well. One day, we too will experience that wonderful paradise. One day we too will know the unending joy of that holy place.
So this morning and in the days to come, let us all take consolation in that faith that Renee is now complete and whole and beautiful at this very holy moment and for every moment to come from now on. Let us take consolation in that paradise to which she has been received by martyrs and angels. And let us be glad that one day we too will be there, sharing with her in that joy and mercy and love that will never end. Amen.