June 27, 2020
+ Well, we gather today not really wanting to be here.
Yes, we knew this day was inevitably on the horizon somewhere.
But it still seems a bit too soon.
It was supposed to be different.
I guess imagined a time in which we could all say our goodbyes in person.
But, again, as Jim would tell us, this is the way it sometime happens.
And, in many ways, this might be better.
Whatever the case, all I do know for certain today is that I am very grateful.
I am grateful for Jim and for all he was.
I am grateful for the incredible and amazing life he lived.
I am grateful for the love he had for Joy (and the love she had for him).
I am grateful for all of you—his legacy in this world.
And you are all an amazing legacy to an amazing man!
And yes, as sad as today is, we are also able to rejoice.
We rejoice in Jim.
We rejoice in all that wonderful and beautiful and brilliant in Jim.
I am very honored to have been his priest.
I am very grateful to help commemorate him today and give thanks for his life today and to commend this truly wonderful man to God.
I say I am his priest, but I would say I was his friend.
And I am grateful for that too.
Today, is not the end of anything.
Yes, we are saying goodbye.
But we are not going to stop loving him, or remembering him, or sharing all these wonderful stories about him.
And as you all know, there will be many, many stories told about Jim Coffey in the years to come.
Many wonderful stories.
And his presence will certainly stay with us as long as we share those stories.
I have no doubt that Jim is with us here this afternoon, celebrating this long and wonderful life with us.
I am of the firm 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 actually a very thin division.
So, yes, right now, I think we can feel that that separation between us here and those who have passed on is, in this moment, a very thin one.
And because of that belief, I take a certain comfort in the fact Jim is close to us this morning.
He is here, in our midst, celebrating his life with us.
And we should truly celebrate his life.
It was a good life.
It was a life full of meaning and purpose.
He made a real difference in this world.
And I’m not just meaning in the life of you, his wife, and children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
He made a difference in the lives of so many others.
Those he touched and affected as a doctor.
Those he knew and cared for.
Those many people who called him a dear friend.
He was remarkable in so many ways.
He was a man of science.
But he was also a man of deep faith.
And I got to see that side of him on more than one occasion.
Now saying that, I’m not saying he was some deeply over-pious person.
He was not that.
And even with his faith, he could still caste a critical doctor’s eye.
I remember very clearly one Christmas Eve, after Mass, we were talking and he said, “A virgin birth? Impossible!”
But he did have a deep and abiding faith in God.
I saw it again and again in his life.
And, toward the end of his life, whenever I would come to visit him, he would mouth the prayers he knew so well and, when he was able, he would always faithful receive Holy Communion.
That faithful life made itself known in so many ways.
All of us were touched by all the kindness he showed to us.
I will never forget that strong and gentle presence.
I will never forget that that kindness and that goodness that he embodied.
I will always remember his care and his concern for others.
Of course, St. Stephen’s was an important place in his life.
This was his church home.
Beginning in 1964 Jim served as Senior Warden here seven times, and as Junior Warden four times.
I am so very happy that his ashes will rest here in our memorial garden.
This was a person who truly lived out in his life the great commandments to Love God and to love others as you love yourself.
It was that love—love of God, love of others, love of his family and friends—that truly defined Jim Coffey.
As Jesus said in our Gospel reading for reading.
“Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love…”
That is the perfect summary of Jim’s faith and life.
He kept those commands of love of God and love of others in the best we he knew how.
And we—all of us here today—are better for that love.
We all felt it.
We all were embraced in it.
We all knew how wonderful that love of Jim’s was.
As a faithful Episcopalian, Jim know that is that sometimes we can’t clearly define what it is we believe.
Nor should we.
We can’t pin it down and examine it too closely.
When we do, we find it loses its meaning.
But when I am asked, “what do Episcopalians believe?” I say, “we believe what we pray.”
I think Jim would’ve appreciated that definition of our beliefs.
We’re not big on dogma and rules.
We’re not caught up in the letter of the law or preaching a literal interpretation of the Bible.
But we are big on liturgy—on the our worship services.
Our Book of Common Prayer in many ways defines what we believe.
And so when I’m asked “What do Episcopalians believe about life after death?” I say, “look at our Book of Common Prayer.”
Look at what it says.
And that is what we believe.
This service is a testament to what we Episcopalians believe about what happens—this service of Resurrection, of life unending, of the fact that today is not ending, but is, in fact, a great and wonderful beginning.
This service is a testimony to what Jim himself believed.
Later in this service, as we commend Jim to God’s loving and merciful arms, we will pray,
You only are immortal, the creator and maker of mankind; and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and to earth shall we return. For so did you ordain when you created me, saying, "You are dust, and to dust you shall return." All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
Jim the poet would get those words.
Jim—who could recite “The Cremation of Sam McGee” by Robert Service from memory (that always amazed me—and I’m a poet!)—would have “gotten” the poetry of that passage.
Jim—whose amazing and incredible photography reflected his keen poetic eye—would really “get” what was being said in those words.
He would understand that, yes, even now, even here, at the grave, what do we do?
We sing our alleluias today.
Because we know.
We know that what we are rejoicing in today is Jim’s new life, his new beginning.
Where Jim is right now—in those loving, caring and able hands of his God—there is no pain or sorrow.
There is only life there. Eternal life.
At this time of new beginning, even here at the grave, we—who are left behind—can make our song of alleluia.
Because we know that Jim and all our loved ones have been received into God’s arms of mercy, into the “blessed rest of everlasting peace.”
This is what we cling to on a day like today.
This is where we find our strength.
This what gets us through this temporary—and I do stress that it is temporary—this temporary separation from Jim.
We know that—despite the pain and the frustration, despite the sorrow we all feel—somehow, in the end, God is with us and Jim is with God and that makes all the difference.
For Jim, sorrow and pain are no more.
In those 91 years, Jim knew much love and wonder and beauty.
In those 91 years, he also gave much love and wonder and beauty.
All of that is not gone.
It still goes on.
Jim, in this holy moment, has gained life eternal.
And that is what awaits us as well.
We might not be able to say “Alleluia” with any real enthusiasm today.
But we can find a glimmer of light in the darkness of this day.
It is a glorious Light we find here.
Even if it is just a glimmer, it is a bright and wonderful Light.
And for that we can rejoice and be grateful.
And we can celebrate.
May angels welcome you, Jim.
May all the saints come forward to greet you.
And may your rest today and always be one of unending joy.