Window’s open – a funeral sermon

Pastor Martin Malina

On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations … And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:2,5)

When Spring comes to Canada in late March, the windows in our homes still stay closed most of the time. Even though the promise of warmer days ahead beckons, there is still snow on the ground, freezing temperatures greet us each morning, and the occasional blizzard still assails us. It’s cold outside and the windows remain closed.

James died at that pivotal time of year. Not just when the seasons change in Canada. But at a time when the church is in the depths of the annual Lenten journey—a time of acknowledging our mortality, confessing our sin and turning our hearts, minds and will towards the promises of God. 

Staying with the metaphor of the closed window, Lent is the time when we stand by the window looking out at the signs of springtime emerging; we can even gaze far into the distance towards the hopeful horizon of new life—Easter is coming. But from our Lenten vantage point, we still remain on the inside of the closed window.

In grief, we can’t always bring ourselves to be by the window let alone look out it. In the depths of mourning the loss of James—a dear son, brother, uncle, nephew, cousin and friend—we will need, for a time even, to turn our backs on the window.

Many of us gathered in a Zoom room on Easter weekend to observe the mournful passage of the weeks following his death. We acknowledged that James had lived under the near threat of death his whole life long—that breathing was something he needed help with since the time of his birth. Fresh, abundant air was not easy for James to bring into his body. His lungs and his heart always had to work so hard to absorb life-giving oxygen. In other words, the window more often than not throughout his life and against his will and deepest desire remained more or less closed.

Nevertheless throughout his life, James would proverbially stand close to that window, his face pressed against the pane, engaging all the goodness in his life. You have highlighted these wonderful aspects of his personality – “witty, charming, sarcastic as well as fiercely independent and occasionally stubborn … He was deeply loyal and always had a friend’s back.” Despite the challenges facing him, James lived fully and fiercely. He brought it all to the table.

When we gathered in that Zoom room over Easter weekend in the midst of grief’s shadows, the seasons were turning.

Even though in Canada it was still rather cool and the windows in my house for the most part were closed, some of you were joining the Zoom call from southern climes, sitting outside or at least in a room with the windows wide open. How did I know this? Well, not only could I see with my eyes, I could hear signs of the outdoors. When you turned off your mute button to join the conversation, you weren’t the only one talking. 

The wind blowing through the trees and birds in the background caught me by surprise. I hadn’t heard birdsong and the wind through leaves for a long time through the winter season. And it was such a refreshing sound, a sign of renewing hope for me that life was again emerging in the springtime of creation.

Visions of nature tantalize all our senses in the Book of Revelation—rivers and trees, fruit and leaves and sunshine. The purpose of the trees alongside the river in Revelation 22 is “for the healing of the nations.” For healing, for wholeness, and for all people. This expansive vision can seem incredible, as would be the prospect of James using the full capacity of his lungs in this life. And yet, God’s promise, God’s vision, lures us, pulls us beyond the closed windows of our lives.

We gather at the verdant climax of earth’s growth. Nature’s fullness is peaked at this time of year in the middle of summer— we notice signs all around us of this fullness. 

Of course today is also James’ birthday—a day we celebrate and give thanks for the gift of his life. Over the past forty years, God’s love for him was conveyed through you—through your friendship, in the faithfulness of your attention, the care of medical staff and the support of therapies and medicine. 

Today we come full circle and affirm that what was true on the day James died has always been true: God’s eternal care of James’, who on the day he died, unlocked James’ window for him and held it wide open. We gather to give thanks for a life that today is animated by the expansive breath of God. In full communion with his creator, James stands today with arms wide open at a window with no frame, no pane, no boundaries separting him from the ever so sweet, sweet air.

Amen.

It all matters – a graveside sermon

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, For Thou art with me …(Psalm 23:4)

For my camping trip last week, I packed my go-to spork (fork on the one end, spoon on the other). I like this item for its efficiency in packing on a canoe-camping adventure into the back-country of Algonquin Park.

But on the first night, and after the first meal as I was cleaning the dishes by the campfire, my plastic spork exploded into several pieces. It was done. And then I wondered how I would eat my food for the rest of the trip without any cutlery. 

Fortunately I was not alone. John was with us and he is an outdoor survivalist. Bush-crafting is John’s passion. He eyed a deadfall cedar tree lying on the ground at the edge of our campsite, and said, “That wood is perfect for carving … “ John took out his knife and before our next meal the following day, he had carved a spoon for me. 

I thought of Albert as I enjoyed the gift of John’s handiwork. Your Dad was known for his ‘MacGyvering’ skills. My experience of grace in the bush brought Albert to mind, and made him present to me in that moment last week.

A lot in our world sends us the message that nothing we do matters. Especially the small things that don’t get noticed in the world. That deadfall cedar trunk lying on the sidelines of a campsite in Algonquin Park – does it matter? The little things we craft from nothing – does it matter? Gathering outside today in the middle of summer’s heat three months after Albert’s death – does it matter? The words we say and the seemingly simple things we do – does it matter? The names we bring to mind and pronounce of loved ones gone – does it make any difference?  Does it matter? Any of it?

Grief will sometimes take us there, into the shadows of our hearts. At the same time, that’s where God goes. I sure felt the love, care and support of my friend John when he took his skill and his time to work for me – to help me. This little, cedar spoon might not amount to much ‘in the real world’. But this little spoon brought to my mind and heart the awareness of God’s presence, God’s love through the caring act of a friend.

It matters. Yes. All of it matters. And as we bring to mind our memories of Albert Frederich Reiche, as we speak out loud his name, he comes to life in our hearts today. All the MacGyvering, all the little things—these serve as reminders that God is real, and God is with us.

In the time to come, I ask you to pay attention to the little things. Every little thing around you, every one you meet, every thing you do—therein lies the pathway to experience the presence of your beloved Albert and the God in whom he rests, eternally.

A funeral outdoors

Psalm 100

1 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
2 Worship the Lord with gladness;
come into his presence with singing.

3 Know that the Lord is God.
It is he that made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him, bless his name.

5 For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures for ever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.

Jesus said, “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26).

We remember today our beloved ‘Des’. He was a man who hummed with the vibrancy of life. He had a good ear for singing and playing music. His smile was infectious. He spoke with passion. He was constantly supplying me with jokes, unfortunately not many were church-appropriate. 🙂

Last March when Des celebrated his 85thbirthday he said he didn’t want anything big. “Wait till my 90th” he said, “then let’s pull all the stops.” Then, with a twinkle in his eye, he added in typical Des fashion: “And, if I’m not around, you go ahead without me.”

Well, we must now go ahead without him. Our paths diverge. We go our way, and Des enters the fullness of God’s presence. The Psalmist invites us to enter God’s city “with songs of thanksgiving.” I can imagine Des doing just that. 

Today we gather outside, at the place of his final resting. It’s appropriate that we do so, here during the first week of the summer season. Because Des was most at home in nature. I’m glad we can hear the birds chirping, the choir singing Des home to his creator.

Naturalists call it ‘animal altruism’: when a creature places another’s needs before its own. If you are walking through a forest during the day and without knowing it come too close to a nesting whip-poor-will baby bird, its mother will abandon its lone nestling and fly around you in circles and land on a branch away from the nest. It might even drag one wing, trying to make you think it had been injured so that if you happened to be a hungry predator, you would go after the ‘easy prey’ that was the parent rather than the newly hatched, more vulnerable child.

It is imbedded in nature, to love and go way beyond one’s own needs for the sake of the other.

You described to me one stand-out aspect of Des’ personality and giftedness to us: his willingness, his readiness to help out. At the drop of the hat, even if it inconvenienced him, he would offer whatever help he could. He put others’ needs before his own, often. He was all heart. And never stopped loving you.

Like the birds whose love and sacrifice for their children never end, God gives us examples from nature to show us how God is. That God will remain faithful to us, will offer help in times of grief and sorrow. God will provide for our needs in times of trouble. God will go the distance and will never stop loving us even in the face of death. As the Psalmist sings, “For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures for ever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”

Our hearts can rest forever in the care of God. Today, Des is with his creator, in the full and loving presence of a God who never stopped loving him. For his life, we are grateful. For God’s love for us all, our hearts sing.

Amen.

Lead me by the waters – a funeral sermon

Today we gather to remember and give thanks for the life of a dear wife, mother, grandmother, friend and beloved member of the community of faith. The energy that she gave was palpable.

Indeed, it seems, Jenny was always on the move. Born in South London, England, she met Mike playing cards at a Bridge party during their university days. Jenny and Mike married in 1967, and finally immigrated to Canada in 1969.

Lead me by the waters, the Psalmist prays. Jenny was drawn to the water. And Canada has lots of water. 

Her first impression of Canada was Niagara Falls. She loved Niagara Falls. When Juliet and family later made their home in Niagara Falls, all the better! Jenny took advantage of family visits there to visit the Falls whenever possible. In the last part of her life, she loved going on cruises. Of course, in a boat, you are constantly surrounded by water. She loved the water.

Perhaps there is a part of us that can appreciate this love. Of course, today, waterfront living is highly valued. That wasn’t always the case, in the post-industrial age. Yet, for whatever reasons, we, as a people, have become drawn to the water. 

Maybe because, by ‘still waters’, motion is just waiting to happen. When water stays still for too long it becomes stagnant. There’s a difference between stagnant and still. The Psalmist prays to be led by still waters, not stagnant waters. When waters are still, watch out! Movement is about to happen.

The winds will whip up and cause ripples or waves piling the water up against one shoreline. The earth’s gravity will cause water molecules to flow downhill. The moon as well high- and low-pressure systems will cause a change in the height of the water surface. In the high Arctic and Antarctic regions when seawater freezes, the freshwater forms ice, leaving behind cold, saltier water which is denser than the surrounding water and sinks. This saltier water flows along the ocean floor towards the equator and creates the deep ocean currents.

Whatever the case may be with still waters, something will change soon. There is flow. The water is going somewhere whether or not we can easily perceive it at first. Lead me by the waters.

Whenever Jenny was in the company of others, you knew there was motion in the air. Movement. People who love to organize give that energy, for better or for worse! Jenny loved to organize and lead. Few may know she was the first chairperson of the Ottawa-Carleton Soccer League. Here at the church she was active on the worship and music committee, the council and women’s groups. Lead me by the waters. There is movement underfoot!

Water can change direction when it is going somewhere – when it encounters a rock, tree-fall, a windstorm, or sand banks shifting on the ocean floor or river bed. These days, people change jobs on an average of two to three years. That wasn’t always the case. In her generation, she was on the leading edge of this cultural shift. She was trained as a teacher. But then changed direction, to become an accountant. Jenny’s family was very proud of her accomplishing her CA degree for Carleton University.

Water is like the wind. Born, baptized and confirmed Anglican, then Lutheran, she brought Spirit into her life of Faith. Not something reserved Anglicans and Lutherans are particularly known for, she nevertheless sought out places to express and experience the Spirit of God. Jenny was active in the local Cursillo movement, a movement of prayer, spirit, heartfelt expressions of God’s love for her.

And, even as her mind began to fail in the last years, she still loved to attend Tuesday bible study at Good Shepherd Anglican-Lutheran Church in Barrhaven and regularly participate in the Communion services here at Faith.

Today is Jenny’s birthday. Birthdays are truly celebrations of life. On her birthday today we give thanks for the gift of her life. Funerals services in the Christian faith will announce the Easter hope of resurrection and new life in Christ even as we are now in the season of Lent, a season reminding us of our mortality and human frailty.

For Jenny, today is a day of resurrection. We can, and indeed we will, sing a hearty “Alleluia!”. Today we celebrate a life that continued to be reborn in the waters of her baptism. Through the ebbs and flows and changes of her life, God led her to this day when she finally and fully experiences the vast, boundless, ocean of God’s never-ending love.

Thanks be to God! Alleluia! Amen!

funeral sermon for a mother

We’ve come to this point in time to remember a young lady who was with us for what would have been 93 years in a couple of weeks. Violet – Mom, Grandma – touched the lives of her family and friends as no one else could. And for that reason, she will be remembered long after our time here.

When your mother dies, major changes happen, at first perhaps imperceptible. Like the tectonic plates shifting deep beneath the earth to forecast a major geological event on the surface, a maternal loss affects those left behind, like no other loss.

The one who birthed you, who physically released you into the world, who literally spilled blood for you, is one who has made an indelible mark on our soul. And when she no longer occupies space and time in our lives – even after nine decades—a huge shift occurs, and we feel deeply, sharply, this loss.

Others have described this special relationship with our mother that refuses to end: “She’s the beginning and she is never the end. She starts and then she endures. She is the wisest of all creatures, carries you wherever she needs to be herself – feeds, clothes and proudly places your distorted drawing of an elephant on the refrigerator door; the ‘Hall of Fame’ in every home.

“She’s your mother. No matter her achievements or accomplishments outside the home, whether in a big or small job, her dying thought will be as ‘mother’. She creates as God creates, she sustains as God sustains, and she is sometimes not at her best, as God has also shown us about Himself.”[1]

So, we’ve come to mourn our loss. While the immediate family will probably notice the loss more physically, each one of us here will also mourn in our own way. It’s okay to mourn, to be sad. We can do so with full assurance because it was Jesus who told us, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”[2]

And as I pastor, I want you to know that God is not immune to our emotions. In Christ Jesus, God already knows what we, in our humanity, are feeling. Because God feels it, too. God knew the pain of death. On the cross, God knew, fully, the brokenness of our humanity.

But God also knew new life. On this day of mourning, we also affirm the resurrection. And so, it is okay—also—to celebrate the life of Violet which has no end. A life which started on earth and a life that endures through eternity.

Bishop Oscar Romero once said, “We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.”[3]

You have described a development, of sorts, in Violet’s own life on earth with us. You pointed to an aspect of her character that stands out – her giving, compassionate, caring nature. She was always ready to help.

And then, let’s say in the last twenty years or so, when she moved into the Redwoods kitty-corner from where we are today, you noticed a shift. She had started in the latter part of her life to ‘receive’.  That is, she started looking out for her own needs, too, asking – and maybe at some points even demanding – that someone help her.

And that’s not altogether bad. For it is in giving and receiving that we experience all that is good and right, in life. Especially at the end of a journey, when the gate of death looms larger on the horizon, we must be practiced in letting go. Should we experience ‘a good death’ as they say, we need to be able and willing to release our grip and fall into the loving arms of someone else. To depend on them. To trust in them. To help you.

Today, Violet rests in the bosom of her saviour. She walks with Jesus beside the still waters and along paths true and safe. And she continues to receive the constant loving attention and care of a God she followed her whole life long.


[1]Rev. Joe Jagodensky, SDS “Funeral Sermon for a Mother” (wordpress.com, January 20, 2015)

[2]Matthew 5:4

[3]Cited in Jagodensky, ibid.

When the lights go out: an Epiphany funeral sermon

It’s sounds strange talking about Marcella in the past tense. All of this happened so quickly. It was such a sudden loss. So unexpected. One moment she is participating and enjoying the holiday with family. And the next, she is gone. 

It’s like when there’s a power outage and the lights go out. We may have some heads up – like at this time of year when the weather network puts up freezing rain, wind or snow warnings. These storms will threaten the hydro lines, and we know we could lose power at any given time. 

But usually when the lights go out, no matter the condition, it still catches us by surprise. We are caught in the shock of it. 

And we are left in the dark. When we are without power even for a relatively short amount of time, that’s usually when we realize all the things we take for granted. These creature comforts we call them, things we appreciate, like – running water if we are on a well, the stove, the fridge, the furnace. Generally, when the lights go out, we think of all those things that normally give us a sense of security and help us survive, especially in the harsh winter time. And how life is now without them.

It’s scary. We find ourselves in unchartered territory. The first thing we will likely do is reach instinctively for any light. Like a candle. Or a flashlight. And appreciate its simple brilliance more. Also, if we share a living space with others, likely the situation will bring us physically closer together as we huddle around the light. And, usually, although it may not initially feel like it, we eventually get through the harrowing ordeal – through the dark night – in one piece and okay.

The sudden death of Marcella feels like the lights going out. And we’re not talking about a house or a subdivision, but a whole city or half the country! Marcella was a bright light in our lives. Her energy, her spunk, her drive. Her light going out affects a universe. It feels like now something huge in our lives is gone. We feel truly in the dark without Marcella. Will it ever be bright again in our lives?

Marcella and David travelled a lot. So, you know that when flying from Ottawa to London or Frankfurt, the journey begins late in the evening. Almost immediately upon departure it is already night time. It is dark. And while most of the six-hour journey transpires in the dark of night, the flight over the Atlantic is heading eastward.

And that means that this journey we are on, dark as it stays for most of it, goes with the expectation—the promise—that we are heading into a new day. After five hours of complete darkness, a thin pinprick of light first lines the horizon ahead. It isn’t too long afterward that the journey is completed in the bright daylight.

You begin a journey these days. And it starts in the darkness of grief. This journey may take some time. It may feel like a very long time. This journey must acknowledge and embrace the darkness in which we walk and the time it takes. Because we can’t get to where we are going without moving through the night. We can’t avoid it. 

But you travel not alone. You are together, as family and friends, somewhere on the flight path. You may use the time you have to be reconciled to your losses and the suffering you bear.

Even though you carry the burden of grief and loss, you are nevertheless heading towards a new day. On this long journey in the dark you wait, as it were, for the sun to shine again. You look for the pale dawn’s light to begin brightening the day again. It may start small – a tiny candle flame, a moment of grace, a pinprick of starlight shining brightly in the dark sky.

May these moments give you hope and faith that Marcella’s light still shines. It still shines in the warmth, the light, the life and the love of God. Yes, we speak of her today in the past tense. But we can still use the present tense. Her light still shines. And your light will, one day, shine brightly again.