A Sermon Preached at the Liturgy of the Burial of the Dead for Fred Boston, August 23, 2014.
By the Rev’d Canon Dane E. Boston
Texts: Isaiah 25:6-9; I Corinthians 15:20-26, 35-38, 42-44, 53-58; John 10:11-16
“In the midst of life, we are in death; Of whom may we seek for succor, but of thee, O Lord?”
Those ancient words from the Burial Service have been running through my mind all week. In the midst of life, we are in Death. We here assembled know the truth of those words. Fred Boston was in the midst of life when he was taken from us. In this, we can take comfort—even joy. Grandpa would not have had it any other way. Not for him the hospital bed or the hospice ward. No long decline or slow diminishing. No disease—apart from the ordinary ills that must afflict a person who loved a good meal and a cold beer. No slow descent into darkness, but in the midst of life Grandpa has gone. In the midst of work he loved. In the midst of motorcycle rides and helicopter flights. In the midst of silly emails and truly ridiculous puns. In the midst of life, Fred left us. For that, we can give thanks. For the gift of his passing, and the gift of his whole life shared with us, we rejoice this day.
But at the same time, we must not deny the pain of this day. In the midst of life, we are in Death, and it hurts. We who have been left must now grapple with the rising tide of grief. We must learn what life is without a husband and a brother—a father and a grandfather and a great-grandfather. Without our friend. I say all this not to be morose or depressing, but so that we may have the grace to let grief’s current carry us for a time. Honest mourning and open sorrow will not negate our thanksgiving for Fred’s life. Indeed, the depth of our gratitude for who he was and for who he will always be to us requires that we acknowledge our sorrow. In the midst of life we are in death—and it hurts us.
That pain is important. It points us to what we have lost: to the love that Fred bore for us and the love that we bear for him still. That love must be our starting point this day. My grandfather was not a man who spoke of his faith or his beliefs. Rather, he showed what was important to him through the quiet signs of his love. He showed it in long road trips to visit his far-flung family. He showed it in teaching his grandson to jump in puddles. He showed it in buying his great-granddaughters ice cream cones—always to share with him, of course. He showed it in four identical Christmas presents each year for his four sons, always wrapped appropriately in the newspaper funny pages. He showed it in countless ways over the fifty-five years of his marriage to my grandmother, Janet. The little deeds of love composed the contents of his creed.
And today, I am grateful for his relative silence regarding religious things, because that silence allows the readings we have heard to speak to us in their fullness. For today, the Word of God addresses us in our grief. Today, the Scriptures speak to us in our sorrow. Today our readings tell us of a God who does not forget us in our time of mourning. They tell us of a Lord who does not leave us to Death and darkness. They tell us of a Love that will not let us go.
“On this mountain, the Lord of Hosts will make for all people a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines; of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.” All of this talk of feasting certainly fits for Grandpa’s service, though I suppose we might switch out the well-aged wines for free-flowing Bud Lite. But did you hear the promise from the Prophet Isaiah in the midst of that portrait of God’s overflowing love? “And God will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is over all nations. He will swallow up Death forever.”
In the midst of life we are in Death, but today the Word announces to us that we will not dwell in that dark shadow forever. For God has acted on behalf of people in mourning and grief—for people such as we are. “Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth.”
And to accomplish this work—to fulfill that promise—God himself has come to us. In the person of Jesus our Lord, God’s everlasting purposes have been fulfilled. In the life of Jesus our Lord, God himself shares in our life—in our times of feasting and fasting, in our joys and in our sorrows, in our loves and in our losses. In the death of Jesus our Lord, God himself shares in our death. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. God joins us in all the terror and all the tragedy of Death. God comes to us in our mourning. God dwells with us in the darkness. And in the Resurrection of Jesus our Lord, God himself conquers Death for our sake.
“Since by man came death, by man has come also the Resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive…Where, O death, is thy victory? Where, O grave, is thy sting?” In the midst of life, we are in Death—but today we affirm that Death’s reign has been broken. In the midst of life, we are in Death—but today we announce that God’s light shines even in the darkest places. In the midst of life, we are in Death—but today we hear the assurance that the Lord our God has come to us; the Lord our Brother has died for us; the Lord our Life is risen for us; and the Lord our King has triumphed for us. “And he must reign until he puts all enemies under his feet. And the last enemy to be destroyed is Death.”
Beloved, in this defiant hope, we commend our brother Fred to the keeping of the God who made him and who has called him to himself. In sure and certain expectation of that day when Death will be no more, neither sorrow nor crying, but life everlasting, we commend him to the Lord. In the midst of life—in the midst of our lives—may we ever carry the memory and the mission of Fred’s love for us, pointing us on to the Love of God made manifest in Jesus, and leading us to that time when God will indeed be all in all.