(March 12, 1951 – April 17, 2018)
St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church
April 20, 2018
Wisdom 3.1-5, 9
+ I will be honest with you this morning: I do not want to be here right now. I do not want to be doing this service for Kathie today. I do not want to have to face the fact that I am not going to talk with Kathie again, or see her again, or laugh with her again.
For me, I have known Kathie for over ten years. Actually, for some time, we had lost touch with each other. But over a year ago, when Kathie was preparing to for her last journey, she tracked me down and we had a wonderful reunion.
Every week for the last year, I visited her to bring her Holy Communion. Holy Communion was very important to her—which is why we are having Holy Communion as part of this service today.
Now, before you think that was all sweet and holy and nice—I gotta say: it wasn’t. We were pretty raucous at times. We laughed a lot. We complained a lot.
And one time, when I got there, I realized that I didn’t have any hosts or wafers in my Communion kit. Because I can be a real forgetful ditz sometimes. A fact which made Kathie laugh quite a lot.
On this particular day when I didn’t have any hosts, Kathie said, “Well, I guess we won’t get communion today.”
I said, “Oh, not so fast!’
I noticed she had some Saltine Crackers there. I said, “Let’s use these.”
Now Kathie, who was a lifelong Episcopalian, looked at me with that look of absolute disbelief she had sometimes, as if to say, “Excuse me?”
And we did. We had Holy Communion with Saltine Crackers. Let me tell you, she laughed so hard—with that deep laugh—throughout the whole thing. For a long time afterward we laughed about that Communion.
I was even tempted to use Saltine crackers for Communion this morning. But instead we’ll use real bread.
Kathie and I got to know each other very well. And, as we all know this morning, there was only one Kathie Durben. The world will not see again someone quite like her. She was a fiercely independent, strong, determined person. And I, like everyone here this morning, am so very grateful that I knew her, counted her as a friend, loved her.
But this only makes her passing so much harder. It is hard to believe today that Kathie is not here. It is very hard to wrap our minds around the fact that she is no longer with us in this world. And we are feeling that loss today.
As I said when I began, I do not want to be here. I do not want here to be here on this Friday morning, preaching the funeral sermon for Kathie Durben. Of course, we knew this day was coming. Kathie definitely knew this day was coming. She planned for this day. She was prepared for this day. We knew it would inevitably be here.
But I still can’t help but feel that it’s all so unfair. I think many of us feel that way this morning. And that’s all right to feel that way. It’s honest.
Let’s face it: Kathie should have had many years of life and love ahead of her. There was so much life ahead. There were so many wonderful things she could’ve done and experienced. So, yes, it is horribly unfair.
But, for those of us who live by faith, who, like Kathie, knew that life is more than just this, 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 Kathie—all that life and vitality and love—none of that is gone. None of that is lost.
Kathie 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 beauty. 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.
Kathie and I talked often of what comes after death. And I, as her priest, can assure you that she knew where she was going. She had a strong faith—a faith as strong as she was. And she believed fully in that place to which she was headed.
Her daughters told me that some of the last words she said to her nurse right before she died was,
“I am so surprised.”
She was no doubt surprised at how beautiful the place was toward which she was headed. For Kathie, and for all of us who have faith, our hope this morning is in that place of beauty and surprise.
Yes, we are unhappy this morning. Death is an ugly, terrible thing. But we know that death is not eternal.
Our life in God is eternal. Kathie believed strongly and firmly in a God of grace and mercy. She believed in a God who loved her and protected her and surprised her with beauty.
In our reading from the Book of Wisdom today, we heard about the grace and mercy of God with these wonderful words:
“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 not just something Kathie is experiencing today. That grace and mercy is upon each and every one of us 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 son: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”
“Alleluia” is a word that encompasses all our faith and hope and mercy. It is a word we say quite a lot during this Easter season. The word means, “Praise God!”
It is a joyous word, that we can say even when everyone tells us we should despair. And, in face of death, saying “Alleluia!” “Praise God!” is a defiant thing! Kathie would really like that. She could be defiant at times! She would like something that is defiant in the face of death. Because, she was defiant in the face of death. That’s just who she was.
We—all of us—have been embraced today by God’s grace and mercy. And because we have, we have faith, like Kathie, 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!” ‘Praise God!”
Even here, now, even in our sadness, even here at the grave, we can say, defiantly and joyfully, “Alleluia.”
Kathie’s life and love are too powerful and too strong 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 Kathie, we can say, “Alleluia.” And mean it.
I am also grateful this morning. I am grateful that I knew Kathie. I am grateful that I could say she was a friend. All of here this morning are grateful for all that was Kathie was to each of us, a mother, a mother-in-law, a grandmother, a sister, an aunt, a friend. We should all be grateful for having known her. We are all better people because Kathie Durben was a part of our lives.
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 you; and at your coming may the martyrs receive you, and bring you into the holy city Jerusalem.”
We are echoing those words today as well.
Into paradise the angels have led you, Kathie.
May all the martyrs receive you.
Today, you have been brought into the holy city Jerusalem.
One day we too will be received there with you as well. One day, we too will experience that wonderful paradise with you. One day we too will know the unending joy of that holy place in which you now dwell.
So this morning and in the days to come, let us all take consolation in that faith that Kathie is now complete and whole and beautiful at this very holy moment and for every moment to come from now on.
She is smiling there for all eternity!
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 with her as well, sharing with her in that joy and mercy and love that will never end. Knowing that, what more can we say but,