Wednesday, 21 March 2007

A Funeral Sermon: Ecclesiastes 3, John 14 and a Little "East Coker"—for Jack Moody

Delivered Monday, March 19, 2007

There is a time for everything, wrote King Solomon, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die.

That’s what we’re dealing with today—a life and a death in time. There was a time for Jack Moody to be born, and we’re glad of that, and yet, as TS Eliot wrote in his poem, East Coker, “In our beginning is our end.” That was true of Jack and it’s true of us. So, this kind of day is inevitable as those seasons come and go and as every activity under heaven is lived out in the time of our lives.

Today’s activity under heaven is to acknowledge, with a mixture of sadness over the loss, and joy because of good memories, that this particular season in Jack’s life and ours has come to an end.

I’ve read somewhere about the measure of a life well-lived being in how well we handle our endings. How are endings well-handled?

First, we face them and acknowledge them and allow ourselves to feel them. This is counter-cultural these days. Death and dying and loss has been thoroughly sanitized and hidden away. The goal is to get over it as quickly as possible. The one who seems to do that is deemed to be “bearing up well.” Not so, we must allow ourselves, and, perhaps, more particularly, others, to weep and to mourn—to experience and feel our loss.

Then, we handle endings well as we go through this kind of season, by allowing life to go on—for the next season to come when it’s ready—times to laugh, to heal, to dance, to embrace, to sew and gather stones and love—and by doing our best to be ready for the next season when it comes.

One of the best ways of doing that is to make the most of the time we’ve been given under heaven, especially with regard to our relationships? Do the people we love know it? Why not make a point of telling and showing them today. Tomorrow it may be too late—our time may be up. That would be a good way to remember and honour Jack Moody.

We’re handling this ending in a particular context here. What is that? The context of the Christian faith as expressed in the Bible. In other words, we’re doing it in the hope that Jack and (I assume) all of us will live the next season of our lives forever with God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in a state of great blessing and joy. How? The words of Jesus in John 14, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.”

That’s an invitation—to believe—believe what? That God exists and created us in this great circle of creation in which we are born and we die, weeping and laughing, scattering and gathering, embracing and not, loving and hating, beginning and ending.

To believe that he sent Jesus to show us what he is like and to teach us how to live life’s seasons well.

To believe that Jesus died to release us from the effects of our sin—which is not just bad behaviour, but determined separation from God—that death is not the end of life. He rose from the dead, alive again, and because of that fact, so will we.

To believe that he spoke the truth when he said, “In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going."

To believe that God loves us wonderfully gifted humans—capable of loving and great good and yet desperately flawed—and wracked with doubts and wonderings about life, like Thomas who said: "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" To which Jesus replied with one of his marvellously simple, poetic—some think scandalous—sayings full of meaning and challenge, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

What do we do with that?

There is a time for everything, wrote King Solomon, and a season for every activity under heaven.

Thanks to Jack, we have this time and season to think on life and death and what we’ve heard, to examine our lives and how we’re living them.

Statements like that, in times like this, invite us to a deeper consideration of life’s circle of beginnings and endings. In particular, we are invited to believe that Jesus is unique and the only way to secure a reservation in one of those dwelling places in the Father’s house.

Is Jesus speaking the truth? Has he in fact gone on to prepare rooms for us in our Father’s heavenly home? If it is true, do we want one of those rooms? What activity would be most likely to result in a reservation in this season of our lives? How might we prepare? What do we need to gather? What do we need to throw away? What do we need to build, to heal, to mend? How do we need to treat one another as we prepare for our ending—our journey into the next season of our lives?

As I mentioned earlier, in his poem, East Coker, TS Eliot wrote, “In our beginning is our end.” He also wrote, “In our end is our beginning.” May this ending be for Jack—the beginning of an eternal life safe and secure—and for all of us, the beginning of a new and much richer life of time well spent here on this beautiful God-given earth with an even richer life to follow provided we confirm the reservation in one of those rooms Jesus went on ahead to prepare for us in the Father’s heavenly home—lives lived very well indeed. So be it.