A common thread that runs through my homilies is the importance of bringing the assembly’s spirituality and core beliefs, their values, their shared experiences into a palpable and livable relation with Holy Scripture. By doing this, I believe I go straight to their core practical, personal theologies. That’s a great place to go to bring the listeners into contact with a greater theology. When they can relate and find something that they can get their arms around, especially in a very spiritually conducive and inducive venue like a funeral or memorial service, and associate the words with very profound emotions and personal memories, we have a very significant opportunity to bring the listeners home again.
In very basic terms the listener must embrace the words and the words must embrace the listener.
Homily for NAR (“Nappy”)
Delivered on September 19, 2015
Of Quilts and Love
“God never sees His children die; He simply sees them coming home.”
There’s a story that when one of his congregation was dying, John Watson, a Scottish pastor in Edinburgh, would kneel down and whisper in the person’s ear: “In my Father’s house are many rooms.”
Then, with a contented sigh, the person would “slip away” – peacefully and unafraid. There is something about this great portion of scripture which consoles us.
If we could see, but only for an instant, just how glorious Nappy’s homecoming was, no one here would call him back to the limits of his frail and worn – out body.
Even though the Nappy who dwelt among us for 85 years, a good long life full of living, he will surely be missed, there is something very appropriate about his death, even as the author of Ecclesiastes teaches, “There is a time to be born, and a time to die (Ecclesiastes 3:2).
Among the extraordinary long lived of Holy Scripture Methuselah (Genesis, 1 Chronicles 1:3, and Luke 3:37; Genesis 5:25-27 KJV) or Abraham’s wife, Sarah, who is the only woman in the Old Testament whose age is given. She was 127 (Genesis 23:1), Christian legend lists some long lived saints like Saint Servatius, bishop of Tongeren, is said to have lived for 375 years. Saint Kevin of Glendalough died in 618, legendarily at the age of 120 years. And so, too, other faith traditions have their oldies.
But Holy Scripture teaches us in Psalms (90:10) to have more reasonable expectations: “The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.” Nappy did quite well by all accounts.
I think that it is appropriate to mention these because Nappy lived out a full, complete, life. Maybe not as long as some of the figures of the Old Testament but certainly long enough to have done it all and to have done it his way. Long enough to have provided you all with the stuff of legend that you will continue to talk about and from which you will almost eternally receive meaning. That’s the legacy of a long, rich life. You get to do a lot of stuff.
In that life, Nappy followed a unique path of spirituality, perhaps not obvious but he was a searcher, and in the end, I am told, he sought out and had accepted and known the love of God and of family, loves that he always had but perhaps didn’t always acknowledge in the ways we expected or hoped for. But we can be certain that the love was there.
In the end, Nappy’s house here on planet earth was pretty much in order; to be sure there was some unfinished business but that’s par for the course, if you’ll pardon the pun. I hope we can close some of the accounts today, during this service, and perhaps later. It’s time for forgiveness and reconciliation, it’s time for love and mutual support. It’s an opportunity for health and healing that we shouldn’t squander.
In the end Nappy was ready to die; I believe as a searcher he found at the end of the journey his path to God and died a Christian death, and that he sought and received God’s love, a certainty we are assured of, after all it is written: “There is nothing more certain than death, and nothing more unsure than life.” But there is one thing that is more certain and that is God’s love for us, which promises us victory over the only certainty in life, death. Life in these bodies, and life on this earth is temporal; but Nappy has gone to his true home, a home built with God’s own hands, a home that is eternal.
Saint Paul in 2 Corinthians refers to our bodies as tents, and for a little while, a tent can be a wonderful home. When a hiker is in the mountains, enjoying the wonderful outdoors, a tent can be exactly what he needs when he becomes weary and needs a place to rest and be refreshed. While tents are wonderful for their intended purpose, a person doesn’t expect to live in a tent forever. Before long, a person longs “to go home” and live in a house, a structure that is much more permanent and sturdy than a tent.
And Matthew teaches that Jesus said: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. In my Father’s house are many mansions (or dwelling places). I go to prepare a place for you, so that where I am, there you may be also.”
Tents are good for a purpose and helpful for a season, but they can wear out. The fabric can become weak and torn and the poles can collapse. St Paul, speaking of the trust of the faithful, writes in 2 Corinthians 5:1, 6-8: “Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven. Therefore, we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” In other words, while in this temporary dwelling, this tent we call the body, we long to be with the Lord, home in the mansions He provides.
There’s a lovely store that gives us what might be the clearest picture of what death means to a mature Christian. It’s about grand old John Quincy Adams and goes like this: When that Adams was approaching the ripe old age of 80 years, he was making his way down the street one day in his favorite city, Boston, leaning heavily on his cane. Suddenly a friend patted him on the shoulder and said, “Well, how’s John Quincy Adams this morning?”
The old man turned slowly, smiled, and said, “Fine, Sir, fine! But this old tenement that John Quincy lives in is not so good. The underpinning is about to fall away. The thatch is all gone off the roof, and the windows are so dim John Quincy can hardly see out anymore. As a matter of fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if before winter’s over he had to move out. But as for John Quincy Adams, he never was better… never was better!”
With this he started hobbling on down the street, believing without a shadow of a doubt that the real John Quincy Adams was not a body that you could keep in a casket or place in an urn; the real John Quincy Adams transcended all that and was eternally “Fine…never was better!”
He, like Nappy did in the end, and we are confessing today, recognized that beyond the temporary physical man on the outside, there is a spiritual and eternal man on the inside. The flesh dies and is decays, but the spirit lives forever with God.
When someone we love dies, we naturally feel a deep sense of loss, sadness, grief, maybe even anger. And when that loved one has been around for many, many years, even long before you’ve been alive, that person can become a monument, a bigger – than – life part of your life, and when they’re gone, it’s a bit hole to fill.
But today, beyond our natural human sadness and sense of loss, there is a greater joy that comes from our spirituality, our faith: We have the reality of Jesus. We have the reality of God’s love. We have the gift of real of forgiveness and reconciliation we can give each other, even if conditionally, just as we receive it unconditionally from our Creator God. We have the promise, the reality of the resurrection, the transformation from life to death to eternal life and meaning. We have the promise, the reality of eternal life in God’s perpetual light. W have the hope of future reunion with the spirits of those who have gone before us, of union with God.
Several years ago one of the churches produced a film about missionary work in Angola entitled, I’ll Sing, Not Cry. It was based on the book, African Manhunt, by Monroe Scott, which recounted Christ’s victories in the lives of Africans. There was the story of Pastor Ngango (Nah-gone-go), whose beloved wife had died. Great numbers of people came from far and wide to the funeral, and they wailed in the customary funeral dirge of despair, until pastor Ngango (Nah-gone-go) stood up by the casket and said, “Stop all this wailing and howling.” The mourners stood in shocked silence. “This woman was a child of God. She has gone to her Father. I loved her, but today we are not crying, we are singing.” And then he started to sing, “Amazing Grace,” and all the people, Christians and non – Christian natives, joined him in his song of praise. It was not a song of despair or fear or sadness. It was a song of praise to God, a song of our victory, a hymn of faith and confidence. We read that same message in Luke 19:40, that when the crowds praised the Messiah, “Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” Jesus responded, “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” And so, the theme “I’ll sing, not cry.” reaches out to us across the centuries. Weeping may endure for the night. Our human emotions sometimes need release. But joy comes in the morning!
A tiny earthly light has gone out, but where Nappy now is, there’s no need for any earthly light. The glory of God, the Christ, Light of Nations, is shining brighter than the sun, in that radiance, and Nappy’s face is now glowing brilliantly in that glorious light!
So we come to the end of a journey; it’s been a good trip. Sometimes a bit rocky, others smooth as the surface of a tranquil pond; sometimes someone casts a rock into the pond and the surface gets a bit rough, but in time it all becomes peaceful again. That’s life. Deal with it. It’s a precious gift. Learn from it; it’s full of divine meaning. Be grateful for it and live it fully, it comes only once. An earthly journey has ended. A heavenly residence has been established.
What is our hope? What is our confidence? What is our expectation? Perhaps we can take some consolation from St Paul in his letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 15:50-56):
“Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.
Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet blast: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal [must] put on immortality.
So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where [is] thy sting? O grave, where [is] thy victory?
The sting of death [is] sin; and the strength of sin [is] the law.
But thanks [be] to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Please click Homily for Nappy to download a pdf copy of this homily.