Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Requiem Mass for Betty Spur

Betty Spur
(August 30, 1935-July 27 , 2016)

Psalm 121; John 14.1-6

+ Today, of course, is a day we all knew was coming. Betty certainly knew it was coming. She planned this service. She thought ahead and took all of this into consideration. But knowing that this day was coming, doesn’t necessarily make it easier.

I can say, in all honesty, that Betty Spur meant quite a bit to me personally.
And I’m sure many of us here today can say the same.

It struck me in these last few days that I have known Betty for at least eight years.  Eight years. Eight years is a good amount of time to get to know someone. And I can tell you, in those eight years, I got to know Betty very well.  And she knew me very well.  In those eight years, I walked with her through some major highs and some major lows together. Many of us were with her through highs and lows in her life.

We journeyed  alongside this very interesting person—Betty Spur. And she was truly interesting. There are not many people in the world quite like Betty Spur.

She had very strong convictions and opinions and a very clear sense of what she saw as right. And I respected that in her. Even if I might not have agreed with her on an issue.  But, no matter what: I cared for her. And I know that she cared for me.

Well, actually one area of my life she didn’t care for. As many of you might know, I am, in addition to being a priest, I am also a poet. I’ve published a few books of poems. And Betty always made an effort to purchase copies of those books as they were published. But she was also quick to say: “I don’t really care for your poetry.”

“That’s all right, Betty,” I would say. “There are a lot of other people who don’t either.”

“I just don’t ‘get’ them,” she would say. “And they just don’t rhyme.”

Despite that, I knew she really did care for me. And I am grateful—very grateful—that she did.

I also know that Betty’s life was not always an easy one. And knowing how hard and difficult and tragic her life was at times made one more understanding of who she was.  There were many times when I would go to her house to bring her Holy Communion when there were many tears shed. Holy Communion always seemed to bring out the tears.  It was vitally important to her.

Which is why I am very grateful we are able to celebrate it today as part of this service for her. Communion was more just a quaint church-action for her. It was her sustenance. It was in Holy Communion that she truly found her spiritual strength. And she was spiritually strong.

So, it very appropriate that we celebrate this Living Bread and Living Cup today.  We, in the Episcopal Church, call a funeral service in which the Eucharist is celebrated, a Requiem Eucharist.  Requiem comes from the Latin phrase Requiem Aeternum, “Rest eternal grant to them...”  There’s a great statement from The Anglican Service Book that I always like quote at Requiems (which you’ll find on the inside of your booklet this afternoon):

“A Requiem is 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.”

I love that. And I believe that. And I know Betty believed that as well.

I think many of us today can feel that that separation between us here and those who have passed on is, in this moment, especially at Holy Communion, a very thin one.  And because of that belief, I take a certain comfort in the fact Betty is close to us this afternoon.   She is here, in our midst, with us. She is here, and she is full of joy and life. And she is, finally and completely, happy.

In her last days, as she repeated that one phrase, “I’m happy” over and over again, I know for a fact that she had no fear of what awaited her. She knew where she was going. And just as I know she cared for me, I can tell you, Betty knew that she was loved by God.  And because she knew she was loved, and she was happy, Betty had no fear of death. She knew where she was going.  And she knew that it was good.

At the end of this service, at the Commendation, we will hear these wonderful words:

All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Yet even at the grave we make our song, Alleluia.

Betty’s joy and happiness in her last days were her Alleluia.  That joy, that happiness, was her last defiant act in the face of death. We all can learn a few things from Betty Spur about facing death.

On every visit I made to her, Betty always requested one thing, again and again. She always requested Psalm 121, which was just led by Jessica. Betty loved that psalm because it captured perfectly her faith in God and in herself in the face of hardship.

I lift up my eyes to the hills; *
from where is my help to come?
My help comes from the LORD, *
the maker of heaven and earth…
The LORD…watches over you; *
the LORD is your shade at your right hand,
 So that the sun shall not strike you by day, *
nor the moon by night.
The LORD shall preserve you from all evil; *
it is [God] who shall keep you safe.
The LORD shall watch over your going out and your coming in, *
from this time forth for evermore.

God has watched over Betty and kept her safe. She has been preserved from all evil and is now truly and completely safe. Her God has truly watched over going her out and her coming in “from this forth forevermore.”

I prayed this psalm with her the Sunday before she died. As I did, although she could no longer follow along, she seemed to look past me as  I prayed. Or rather I should say, she looked beyond me.  I have no doubt that, in that moment, she was looking toward those hills, toward that place to which she was headed, where her God would keep safe forever.  It was truly a holy moment.  And I will remember it always.

I am going to miss Betty Spur. I already do. There is definitely an absence in the wake of her death. But, despite all this, we also have an abiding and overpowering faith. 

She has taught us one very important thing: These negative things in life—no matter what they are—are ultimately temporary. The great and glorious things are eternal.  They will never end.  Betty knew that. She believed in that. And she is reminding us of that fact this afternoon.  That happiness that she has finally gained will never be taken from her again. And we can all rejoice and be thankful for that.

May the angels lead you into paradise, Betty;
May the martyrs receive you into the holy city Jerusalem.
May the choirs of angels receive you, and may you, with Lazarus once poor, have everlasting rest and a joy that never ends.  

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