A few weeks ago I got to speak at Jean Tourville's funeral. As the Associate Pastor of Students and Community Engagement I don't often do funerals, but Matt was unable to be there and graciously asked me to fill in.
Oddly enough, a few weeks before I picked up a few books by Thomas Lynch. He is an author, poet, and funeral home owner. His works of essays and poetry, like The Depositions, The Good Funeral, and Bone Rosary, provided me with inspiration while compiling a short homily for Jean's funeral. I highly recommend his writings.
Being 29 years old, I’ve rarely had to wrestle with the reality of death. Both sets of my grandparents are still alive and my parents are doing well too. But preparing for Jean's funeral I discovered how important our faith is in wrestling with and processing through the painful reality of death.
Below I have provided an edited version of what I shared at Jean's funeral so it can reach a larger audience. I hope that it may provide you with some comfort and maybe it will even spark your thoughts to think more deeply about the life we live.
April 9, 2021
As Christians we believe that life doesn’t end after death; instead, our loved ones have finished what the poet David Whyte calls “the great migration home.” But even when we hold close to this truth, our hearts are still filled with sorrow and longing for the one we have lost. Thankfully, we have traditions, like funerals, that bring us together while we remember, mourn, and celebrate the life of the ones we have lost.
“When one thing dies, all things die together, and we must live again in a different way, when one thing is missing, everything is missing, and must be found again in a new whole and everything wants to be complete….” - David Whyte, The House Of Belonging
I think David Whyte is correct that when one thing dies, all things die together. We are ever connected with one another and as we continue on, without a loved one, we have to find new ways of living without them.
And this is what we do at funerals. We begin to learn how live again, anew.
There is something distinctly human about honoring our dead. Birds, fish, cats, nor dogs bury their dead, but we do. For tens of thousands of years we have felt compelled to bury or burn our
dead. I think we do this because we realize that there is something special about this life that we live and simply leaving another person outside after they die, seems disrespectful and thoughtless. We need rituals to remind us of how special and fragile life is.
Funerals also present a place where we are confronted with some of life’s most simple, yet difficult questions.
Why are we here?
Does our life have meaning?
Where do we go when we die?
These questions are no longer for one we lost, but for us, as we move through life in a new way.
And as Christians, we believe that there is life after death. We just celebrated Easter, where Jesus himself died on the cross and rose from the dead in three days. Our God and savior is not bound by death, and we too believe we will be resurrected in a new way after we die. In Revelation, the author talks about a new Heaven and Earth were Christ reigns. "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away." (Rev 21:3-4).
The one we have lost no longer lives in a world filled with pain and sorrow. They have been made new and experience the promises that we as Christians continue to hang onto and believe to come true, resting in the arms of Christ.
And what a beautiful image that is. No more suffering and no more pain.
But we, unfortunately, still live in the tension between this world and what we hope is to come. We still live in a world where compassion and love sit alongside suffering and hate.
Therefore we must mourn and gather in the face of death, for we know that death is not the final word. But this is never easy, and it always takes time.
I think that is one of the most difficult parts of mourning the loss of a loved one. It takes time. You can't rush it, no matter how much you want to. It just takes time.
Whether you have lost someone recently in your life or simply have pondered these difficult questions in the face of mysteries: may this prayer be for you or for those that you know and love.
God, we thank you for the life of those we have lost, or one day will lose. And pray now that they are filled with the joy and love that we all long for. That they are made whole and resting in your arms.
And Lord, we pray for us, as we sit here missing the ones we loved. We pray that you can hold us in the tension of the world that is and the world that is yet to come and sit with us with our pain and sorrow. And in the meantime, before we finish our great migration home, let us find ways to live in your spirit and find ways to bring the love, peace, and joy in our life and in others.
On earth as it is in heaven.