That Blessed Dependancy

"There wee leave you in that blessed dependancy, to hang upon him who hangs upon the Crosse…" -John Donne, "Death's Duell"

Tag: Funeral

In memoriam: Fred Boston 1941-2014

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.

AMEN.

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In memoriam: Loretta Jean Paroline 1939-2014

A Sermon Preached at the Liturgy of the Burial of the Dead for Loretta Jean Paroline (nee Schwartzmiller), February 16, 2014

by the Rev’d Dane E. Boston

Texts: I Corinthians 13; John 6:37-40

May I speak in the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.

When my dad called to tell me that my Grandma Loretta had died, I sat on the couch in our living room and wept. The day came faster than anyone had anticipated, and still the news hasn’t sunk in completely.

But on that first night, after I had done my fair share of sobbing, I looked up, and began to laugh. Sitting there, looking at the room around me, I realized that there was nowhere I could turn without setting eyes on something grandma had given us. The clock ticking on the mantle was her last Christmas present to me. The lamps on either side of the couch she had bought for my college dorm room. The book case, and many of Eleanor’s books on it, were from her. The picture frames on the wall, the silverware on the table, the trashcan in our kitchen, even the shirt on my back—it was all from her. She was all around me. Her presence was palpable. And even in the first raw moments of grief, it made me smile.

Those of you who knew my grandmother—who knew the way she showed her love and affection—will not be surprised by my realization. My cousin Kyle, my sister Kasey, and my brother Chad might all have experienced the same thing. My grandmother loved  to give. Indeed, she loved by her giving, and she gave readily, freely, joyfully, quietly. To think of all the back-to-school shopping trips, or the astonishing ordeal of buying four pairs of shoes for four young grandchildren—both routine activities of my childhood. She delighted in filling in the gaps—giving us all the little odds-and-ends, the necessities big and small that made our lives comfortable and happy: a little easier and a little fuller.

But it wasn’t just things that she gave us. Grandma gave abundantly of her time. The summer days and sleep-over weekends; the afternoons home sick from school and the mornings by the soccer field or the hockey rink; the Sunday dinners and the school plays: in all of these, grandma was prodigal in the gift of her time. In the whole course of my childhood, I cannot once remember having a babysitter. She gave us her time as a matter of course. The question was never whether grandma would be a part of something, but only when she would arrive. She poured out upon us her minutes and days and weeks and years, lavishing on us her care, sharing in our lives.

And as I sat there in my living room, looking at all the things grandma had given us and thinking about the intangible gifts she gave, I had another, better realization. You see, all the stuff—the presents and practicalities, the gifts of time or money, or care—these were never the true aim of her giving. For in the twenty-seven years that I knew her—in the seventy-four years she spent on this earth—what Loretta Paroline gave continually and freely and abundantly and extravagantly was…herself. In all those years of Christmases and birthdays and little packages and unasked for new underwear, she was showing us that her greatest joy was in sharing the blessings she had received with the people she loved. In all of those things, those gifts great and small, she was giving us herself. And when the things wear out, and the money is spent, and the warm care has departed, and the helping time has ceased, that gift—the gift of herself—will abide forever.

That abiding gift does not, of course, mean that the pain of her loss is lessened. In fact, it means we feel it more keenly. It hurts to lose someone who loved us so deeply. It hurts to lose someone we love. It grieves me beyond saying to know that my son—born three days before grandma’s death—will never know her. It pains me beyond expression to think of a woman who was, to me, a tower of strength, lying in great weakness, being tended and cared for by the people she loved to tend and care for: my Uncle Roy, and my mother Denise; my Aunt Mary, and my father Ethan.

Let us make no mistake: the separation that death wreaks on us hurts. Loretta knew that pain herself. She knew it as a twenty-one-year-old widow at the tragic death of her husband, Ronald Skrzypinski. She knew it in early 2005 when cancer claimed my grandfather, Thomas Paroline. She knew it in the loss of her parents, and in the deaths of friends and family over the years. She knew it, as we now know it. And I make mention of that pain now that we may not hide from it. I name it here in order that we may have permission to grieve—to acknowledge and bewail the bitter pain of our loss.

And I name it because it is here—here in the depths of pain and the reality of loss—that the full significance of  grandma’s enduring gift of herself to us becomes clear. For what we come to see is that Loretta’s life of self-giving love was a mirror—small and simple, but clear and bright—of the self-giving love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Grandma’s life—a life spent in giving herself—was a parable and a portrait, pointing us to the true fount of that selfless love. On the canvas of her life, Loretta was painting for us a picture of the love of God: a love that gives and does not ask in return; a love that shares and does not count the cost; a love that hopes all things, believes all things, endures all things; a love that never ends.

That love cannot be conquered by grief and pain. Indeed, it is in the greatest grief and the bitterest pain that we see that love clearest. For the self-giving love that grandma embodied has been shown in its perfection in the death of Jesus on the Cross of Calvary. Grandma’s days of self-sacrifice point us to the profound paradox made manifest in Christ’s death: the truth that God is present with us in our grief and pain; in our days of darkness and times of loss. And in the bright light of Christ’s Resurrection, we have the assurance that while Death appears to us to be strong and terrible, yet he is not so. While Death has still the power to cause us grief, nevertheless he has not the power to bind us forever. While Death can remove the gift of grandma’s self-giving love from our earthly sight, still he can do so only to return her to the source and summit of all love.

So it is that we commend our sister Loretta into the embrace of the God who loves us and who has given himself for us. In unending gratitude for the gift of her life—with profound grief at her loss, and in sure and certain hope in the Resurrection to eternal life in Jesus Christ—we yield her up to the Lord. May the memory of the love she so freely gave inspire us to love one another with the same selflessness. May the strength of her example and the knowledge of her deep care sustain us all the days of our lives. And may the power of the God who gave her to us bind us in the living tether of his Holy Spirit, one to another, and the living to the dead, in expectation of that great day when sorrow and pain shall be no more, and death shall be swallowed up in life.

AMEN.

A Funeral Sermon for Christmastide

This sermon was preached at the funeral of a parishioner who died suddenly on Christmas Day. I have removed all references specific to the deceased, and share it as a theological reflection on a painful juxtaposition: a death in Christmastide. 

A Sermon Preached at a Funeral on the Eleventh Day of Christmas, January 4, 2013

by the Rev’d Dane E. Boston, Curate of Christ Church, Greenwich, Connecticut

Texts: Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 23; Romans 8:14-19, 34-35, 37-39; John 6:37-40

May I speak in the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

It is a hard thing to lose someone we love—someone who loved us. It is always hard—hard at any age, at any time of life. But to lose someone suddenly, unexpectedly, and too soon: the pain cuts deeper, and the sense of loss is more pronounced. The front cover of our bulletin today says “A worship service to give thanks for and celebrate the life of N.N.” That’s what our funeral bulletins always say. But it’s not quite right, is it? Yes, the time will come when we give thanks. The time will come when we can celebrate N.‘s life. But now—while the shock and pain of his passing are still so fresh—we may well find that grief overwhelms thanksgiving, and mourning hobbles any sense of celebration.

Dear people, I say all this at the outset not to be depressing or morose, but because I know that we face enormous cultural pressure to keep a stiff upper lip, to “remember the good times”, to hold all thoughts of sorrow and sadness at bay. But for so many gathered here today, the reality of grief is present and potent. It may not always look the same or feel the same for every person. Sometimes grief is raw and overpowering, stealing upon us suddenly and unexpectedly at the smell of a favorite food, or perhaps when a favorite song comes on the radio. Sometimes, grief leaves us numb—unable, it would seem, to feel anything; uncertain where to turn, or what to do. Sometimes, grief makes us angry: angry at N. for dying when he did; angry at the powers that made his last years such a struggle; angry at God for so afflicting him, and so afflicting us.

Beloved, I name all these things—and there are many, many other ways in which grief and mourning reveal themselves in our lives—in order that you may be honest with yourselves and with one another. Do not turn away from the reality of your pain, even—perhaps especially—if you feel nothing right now. Do not be forced onto someone else’s timetable for healing, or society’s published schedule for closure. Grief must run its course. For it is a hard thing to lose someone we love—someone who loved us. And what comfort we can find this day can come only when we face death head on.

The readings from the Bible that we have heard this morning recognize this fact. The promise of Isaiah—that “On this mountain, the Lord will destroy the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the pall that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever”—is meaningful only if we face death for what it is: a veil spread over us all—a reproach common to our human family. The balm of Isaiah—that “the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth”—is soothing only if we give ourselves space to grieve: time to cry our tears, to gnash our teeth against the death’s near-approach.

Or consider Paul’s great assurance in the Epistle to the Romans—his powerful assertion that “I consider that the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to revealed to us.” Those words would be an empty boast, if not for the fact that Paul himself knew what it was to endure terrible suffering; Paul himself knew what it was to struggle against powers stronger than he was; Paul himself knew what it was to lose friends, to see relationships broken, to stare into the face of death itself.

Even the words of Jesus in John’s Gospel—the promise that “I will raise them up on the last day,”—would not make any sense or have any meaning if Jesus treated death as a mere illusion: something to “get over”, something to scurry past as fast as possible, something to sweep under the rug. Beloved, the truth is that Holy Scripture this morning invites us to grieve. It invites us to sit in our numbness for a while. It invites us to be angry, to shake our fists at the heavens, to demand answers of the Almighty.

So let us come with our whispered questions and our shouted questions; let us come with our angry questions and our weeping questions. We come asking why some should be made to suffer and struggle against forces too great for themselves. We come asking why some should be made to face terrible disease, and why others should be made to bear the weight and cost of that enormous burden. We come asking why some are left here to mourn, while others are taken before their time.

We come, we put our questions to the heavens, and we strain our ears to hear the answer we feared would come: silence.

But then—when we have exhausted ourselves in questioning and wondering and weeping—out of the silence, the tiny cry of a helpless child rises to meet us. Dear people, tomorrow is the last day of Christmas. Tomorrow is the Twelfth Day of the Feast that began on December 25—the very day that N. departed this mortal life. What we celebrate for these Twelve Days is not the trappings or the tinsel—not the gifts or the garland. What we celebrate for twelve long days in the deep, dark, cold of winter, is that God has come among us as one of us. The sound of the baby Jesus keening in the manger is the assurance of God’s presence with us in our grief.

We do not hear answers to the bitter questions that trouble and torment us. What we hear, instead—in this season of Christmas and all our lives long—is the sound of God himself weeping with us in our sorrows. We are not given justifications and explanations written in the stars above. What we see, instead, is the same steady, unwavering star that led the Wise Men to kneel at the edge of a cradle. Beloved, what we receive is not an assurance that God will this moment end all our suffering; that God will this instant heal our afflictions; that God will immediately mend all our brokenness; that this life will be easy; that things will make sense. What we receive, instead, is Jesus hanging upon the Cross.

There, on the Cross of Calvary, he shares our deepest suffering. There, he shows himself to be with us through our most bitter afflictions. There, he takes upon himself all of our brokenness—whatever form it assumes; however it harms us, however it burdens those we love. On the Cross of Calvary, the promise of this Christmas season is made complete: though life troubles us and death grieves us, our Lord Jesus is with us in the very depths, never to leave us nor forsake us, certain to “lose nothing of all that [the Father] has given [him].” And in the bright light of the empty tomb on Easter morning, the God who came to dwell with us, to share in our sorrows and to stand in our pain, at last puts an end to sorrow and pain, Sin and Death, forever.

In Christ’s triumph, therefore, we commend N. to the care and keeping of God our Father. Free forever from every force that would bind and subdue him, may he share forever in the eternal victory of the One who is the Resurrection and the Life: even Jesus Christ our Lord. And may we, and all of those who are left to mourn and to grieve, cast our cares upon him—may we “hang upon him who hangs upon the Cross,” that he may “raise [us] up on the Last Day.”

AMEN.