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.