A funeral sermon for one who loved music

The music hasn’t ended; the key has changed[1]

I’m going to ask you to do something that may seem a bit odd, a little unusual. I hope you’ll bear with me for a moment because I think as we continue, you’ll understand why I am asking you to do this.

 I want you to take a moment and just sit in the silence. Be present and open to the silence, and just listen. But before you do that, I want to tell you something. 

Many believe that silence is the opposite of sound and that there is nothing to hear. Inge knew otherwise. As a singer and one who loved to participate in the church choir at Faith Lutheran and the Community choir in Nepean, Inge knew that’s just not true. Every good singer knows that silence is the necessary space between the notes. 

That space, what most of us might call or experience as emptiness, absence, or a void, is the birthplace of the music. That space of silence is as much a part of the music as is each note. That space sets a rhythm, holds energy, and gives music its life, power, and beauty. Silence is never just emptiness, an absence, or a void; not in music, not in life, not in death, and not on this day. 

So take a moment now and listen to the silence. (pause) What did you hear? 

My guess is that we hear the music of Inge’s life; we hear her song of love, her song of friendship, her song of serving, her song of presence in your life. 

And I wonder what song she gave you. How did she touch your life and invite you to join your voice to hers in the great song of life? How did she conduct you into the original music of your own life? Hang on to those songs, Inge’s, and yours. Let them fill you and carry you. They are holy hymns.

I’m also guessing that you heard your song of grief and sorrow, your song of loss, and your song of love for or friendship with Inge. It probably had a verse or two about loneliness, sadness, and wondering how you can know the way. That’s the space between the notes. That’s the opening to a new song for Inge, for you, and for all those you love but no longer see. 

I want you to know this. The music of Inge’s life did not end at her death. Today we stand in that space between the notes, a space that makes room for presence in a new way, a space from which God is making all things new. “Sing to the Lord a new song” the Psalmist sings.[2]

The music of Inge’s life now plays in a different key.

Isn’t that what we mean when we say at these times, “Life has changed, not ended?” Isn’t that what Jesus is telling Thomas in today’s gospel[3] when he says, “That where I am, there you may be also?” Death is not the coda, the conclusion, to the song of life. 

Though we might be able to name the day and maybe even the hour of Inge’s death, she never knew that moment. She simply moved from this life to a new life. The music hasn’t ended, the key has changed. And that means we must learn to listen in a new way. We must listen with the ears of our hearts. 

So when we get to the parts of life that call us to slow down, pay attention and listen with the ears of your heart. Listen for the voice of Inge. Listen for the voices of all those you love but no longer see. Feel her and their presence. The music is always playing. 

“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” for we are singing the never-ending song of life. That’s why we’ve gathered here today. And that’s why on this day, even as we soon go to the graveside, we make our song, “Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah.” 


[1] Largely borrowed and adapted from Fr Michael Marsh, “The Music Hasn’t Ended, The Key Has Changed—A Funeral Sermon” in Interrupting the Silence (https://www.interruptingthesilence.com). Thank you Fr Michael!

[2] Psalm 96:1-2,12

[3] John 14:1-6

Strawberry story – a funeral sermon

audio for ‘Strawberry story – a funeral sermon’ by Martin Malina

Well here we are, finally, at the end of June. It’s strawberry season in these parts. So I want to start with a strawberry story. But it starts out pretty bad:

A holy man is being chased by a tiger. He runs as fast as he can, but the tiger is hot on his heels. Ahead of him is a cliff, with a vine hanging down over the edge. He grasps the vine and begins to clamber down the face of the mountain, when down below …

He spots another tiger prowling on a ledge beneath him. A tiger above and a tiger below, he hangs there, clinging to the vine. Then, he notices …

Two little mice have scampered up and begun gnawing at the vine that is supporting him. He can’t seem to catch a break! It’s just getting worse! The writing is on the wall.

At that desperate moment, he sees right before him …

A ripe, red, wild strawberry, growing on the side of the mountain. He plucks and sinks his teeth into it—how sweet it tastes! (1)

In times of loss and grief, it often feels like all is lost. It feels like the disappointments only mount, and despair hounds relentlessly at the edges of our existence. It’s not just one tiger chasing you, there’s another one waiting for you ahead. And then the one thing you are hanging on to begins to disintegrate before your very eyes!

Planning for this funeral service has felt a little like this story, too. Shortly after Bill died several months ago now, we planned to have his celebration of life just after Easter, appropriately, when we hoped the pandemic wouldn’t be a factor keeping us from gathering. But it was! So, we postponed it to this day, months later, hoping this time of year would give others the opportunity to join us.

There are nuggets of wisdom and truth embedded in the strawberry story. And in the story of the raising of Lazarus, which you chose to accompany our reflection on this day when we celebrate the gift of life in your beloved Bill.

The story of Lazarus starts out pretty badly. It is a story mired in death and grief and failed expectations. Did you notice the extent to which the Gospel writer includes details about death and grief: Lazarus’ dear friend Jesus being “deeply disturbed in spirit and deeply moved” to the point of weeping. The smell of death, the “stench because [Lazarus] had been dead four days.” And Martha’s disappointment that it took so long for Jesus to get there. And, finally, the dead man coming out of the tomb, “his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth and his face wrapped in a cloth.” (2)

Death, and loss, and its sordid details feature prominently in a story about new life. Will someone notice the sweet, ripe, red, wild strawberry hanging on the side of a cliff? We don’t know what happened to the holy man eating that strawberry. We can guess, very likely he met his end. Just like with Lazarus. Even though Jesus raised him to live a few more years on earth, he still eventually died. Death comes to all of us. 

What is more the question, especially for people of faith, is how we live and how we respond to the gifts of life given to us, however small, however unexpected and contrary to anyone’s expectations. 

Indeed, we go where we are looking. We go in our hearts and minds and souls, where we set our sights. We veer in the direction of where we choose, intentionally, to look. 

We can focus on the death part incessantly and all that’s disappointing and wrong in the world, and live the emotional consequences of that strategy for life. Or, without denying the challenges—the holy man still tried to get away from the tigers chasing him; he didn’t just give up—we can choose to see the life, the good, the gift, amidst all the turmoil. And that strategy will set us free from all that binds us.

One of Bill’s occupations was as a surveyor for the Ministry of Transportation in Ontario. Bill laid out most of the main highways on Manitoulin Island and also major highways in Timmins and Sudbury.

Now, to do this job especially on major highways you have to develop a certain kind of vision so that the turns can be navigated safely by drivers and the bends are not too sharp.

When I drive on major highways I need to keep my eyes far down the road in order to make the turns smoothly and stay in my lane. But I will sometimes get distracted. Something will catch my eye on the side of the road, or in the fields by the highway. And I will catch myself, thankfully, in time to avoid an accident. I will have noticed with alarm how the car started veering perilously in the direction of my gaze. I have to work at keeping my attention on the road.

It takes work, intention and yes discipline to see with the heart what is often right in front of us—a grace and gift from God that is good. And maybe that is what we are all called to practice in these challenging days.(3)

Jesus orders those attending by Lazarus’ grave side to “unbind him, and let him go.” In life as in death, we are called to “unbind, and let go.” This takes work and sometimes we catch ourselves running in every direction. 

I sense, nevertheless, without having known Bill personally before his stroke, that he was one who didn’t give up when obstacles arose. In raising a family, in choosing his career, he saw the sweet, ripe, red, wild strawberry right before him. In choosing you […] to be his wife for over fifty years of marriage, he chose life and love.

And today God has chosen for Bill, life. Life eternal. God is the source of life, and all things good. We call this funeral service a celebration of life!

For us who as yet walk by faith, let us notice the moments of life right here and now: The beautiful weather that greeted us this day, the music and the singing, and the food which we will enjoy together following the service.

Let us acknowledge the joy and gratitude of those who are present with us to support you, dear family. These relationships are precious.

Even though obstacles creep up all the time, and it feels like all may be lost, there is always the surprise of finding a sweet, ripe, red, wild strawberry growing on the edge of the cliff. Would we see it? And enjoy the gift?


(1) Adapted from Ram Dass, “Conscious Living, Conscious Dying” in Polishing the Mirror: How to Live From your Spiritual Heart (Boulder Colorado: Sounds True Inc., 2014), p.91

(2) John 11:33-44

(3) Psalm 121

A funeral sermon

audio of funeral sermon for Hertha, by Martin Malina

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is so high that I cannot attain it. Where can I go from your spirit, O Lord? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. (Psalm 139:6-10)

Hertha’s confirmation verse was from Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me.” All things are possible. 

Perhaps this confirmation verse, given to Hertha at a young age, would become a calling of sorts, a gift to her especially in the last couple of decades of her life as she faced serious illness, setbacks and several medical crises. Perhaps this confirmation verse would alight over her like some metaphysical banner whenever it was tough going: “I can do all things, even this.”

Like Saint Paul who wrote these words in the 1st century from prison, Hertha would take this words to mean: “I can do all things in Christ—even when I’m at my lowest, even when my needs are their greatest, even when I don’t bring my A-game. I will endure the physical, mental and emotional anguish in my life. I will tough it out.”

Indeed, her mental toughness was exceptional, on many levels. Her faith as well. This was her simple yet solid faith in Christ who emerged from his suffering and death to new life. Indeed here was a vision in her mind that guided her through the difficult times. It was a holy pattern of getting back up after falling down: suffering-death-resurrection; and repeat: suffering-death-resurrection. She could indeed do it all, meet every challenge head on, literally. All things were possible.

Yes, Hertha had such a strong brain, a quick mind. Even into her 90th year she could still recall and tell stories from her childhood in vivid, blow-by-blow detail. Her memory was like a concrete vault.

She could provide comprehensive explanations to all, and I mean all, her medical conditions to such an extent that impressed even her surgeons and specialists. She knew more about her body’s ailments than anyone else. Her brain was firing on all cylinders her whole life long.

Iain McGilchrist argues in his seminal work The Master and His Emissary[1] that contrary to popular myths about the brain, the left side and the right side of the brain actually both function in every decision and activity we engage. And, again contrary to what had been earlier assumed, McGilchrist shows that the left side—prone to focusing on the particular, concentrating and rational explanation—is in truth subservient to the right side—which adopts the big picture view and accepts nuance, metaphor and ambiguity. It’s the right side that is the Master; and the left side the dutiful Emissary not the other way around.

We may presume that Hertha’s capacity for acquiring knowledge, applying analysis and logical explanations to situations in her life was the exceptional thing. But there is more to it, I suspect.

A better place to meet today would be the shores of the Bonnechere River near Kilaloe at the family cottage. Of course for various reasons we can’t. But perhaps each of you present today, whether watching online or here in person can conjure up in your mind an image of that place that is special for you.

And that is why Hertha chose the hymn we will listen to shortly: Shall We Gather At the River. She knew that spot to be a connecting-ground for the generations spanning her family line: From the humble yet intriguing beginning of how Joe acquired the land, to the grandchildren and great-grandchildren who would decades later also develop a deep connection with that same spot on the river. 

Perhaps as the weather improves moving into Spring and Summer later this year, you can pause to remember and give thanks for Hertha when you next gather together there.

What impressed me was why she chose this hymn, especially because it is a common, beloved hymn often chosen at funeral services. She made a connection within herself—between the strong baptismal imagery in the hymn and the integration of the Christian faith with her personal experience. Left brain connecting to the right brain.

For sure, Hertha could left-brain it with the best of us. But Hertha’s master, so to speak, was her right brain function. Despite her precise and comprehensive capacity for rational thinking and acquiring knowledge, she ultimately could submit to the realm of faith, trust, acceptance and love. That’s why she picked that hymn, because she loved you. She loved you dearly.

She knew and often admitted to me that so much of life cannot, and need not, be merely explained away. She knew that there was no place on earth, indeed no place in her mind, that she could go apart from the loving and steadfast presence of a God she couldn’t fully comprehend.[2] She knew, that often all we need to do when facing the mysteries of life, love, death, suffering, and God, is just to gather at the river. And sing.


[1] Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019)

[2] Psalm 139:6-10

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.