Local News Archive
Print Issue: January 7, 1993
Funeral Homily: For Those Who Believe, Life Comes After Death
A close friend of Archbishop Lyke, Father John E. Ford, ST, read the homily at the Funeral Liturgy Dec. 31. Father Ford is assigned to the Trinitarian House of Studies and Holy Spirit Novitiate in Philadelphia.
Job answered and said: Oh, would that my words were written down that with an iron chisel and with lead they were cut in the rock forever. (Job 19: 23-24)
My brothers and sisters,
It is a true sign of our faith in Jesus Christ, that we are gathered here, in our sadness, and in our joy. For if there were no hope, and no purpose, and no reward, then today we should all be alone, no better than wounded animals, nursing our pain in darkness and solitude. But we are not wounded animals we are men and women, joined into one body by the grace of God, and by the love which flows unfettered from the Death and Resurrection of His Son who is at the right hand of God and who intercedes for us. (Romans 8:34) As Paul rightly concludes, we are more than conquerors because of him who has loved us. (Romans 8:37) Likewise, we hear the great promise of our victory in the Gospel of John, when the Lord Himself vows:
I am indeed going to prepare a place for you, and then I shall come back to take you with me (John 14:3)
Our hearts quicken at these words, for our love is ever ready to spring up in the lofty flight of hope, borne on the sound of many songs heard in the many dwelling places of heaven.
But there is another side to this exaltation, for between us and the Light that will come stands death, surmountable by faith, but a stumbling block to our knowing. When Job uttered his heart-born prayer, it was this barrier against which he protested. In doing so, he expressed a feeling common to human beings since Adam and Eve lost the treasure of paradise - a feeling which becomes acute in the presence of death namely, the longing for permanence, the ache in the human heart for significance, the thirst of the human soul to drink the waters of everlasting life.
We must all confront pain and loss and sorrow during life all things change, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worst, but what is unknown always takes courage to face. The death of people who are our family and our friends the loss of health and ability as we physically and inevitably age the subjugation of the ideals of youth to the wisdom of maturity the resignation to the fact that we may not have become what we always aspired to be. Life is full of compromise and letting go. None of us survive these things unless we have the courage to look above and beyond.
That is exactly what Job gained the wisdom to do. Through his trials and tribulations, burned pure in the exacting rhythms of lifes demands, Job finds the way to the love of God, the love which promises us a heavenly life, a summation, a ringing conclusion to our life on earth.
Job answers his own plea and declares: my own eyes, not anothers, shall behold him, and from my flesh I shall see God; my inmost being is consumed with longing. (Job 19: 26-27)
And so, we also hear this answer that calls to our faith, and to our longing the answer that for those who believe, life comes after death that for those who believe, the flesh has never truly lived until death brings it into the very life-giving sight of God that for those who believe, life itself is consumed, is devoured, is burned pure with the same longing. In his final ecstasy, in his final outburst of heavenly compulsion, Francis of Assisi, a saint dear to the brother who lies here before us, cried out in a spirit likewise consumed with longing:
All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Death, From whose embrace no mortal can escape.
Our futures are a mystery, and heaven remains an unseen world. But it is by this longing this fundamental desire of the heart to survive death in some manner that we expose the heart of all doctrine and teaching, and lay bare the impetus for all faith in the Gospel.
And there, on the cross, hanging above the altar of our sacrifice, is the portal of the heavenly city, the gateway to all fulfillment, and the balm which finally eases the pain of life. There, in the eyes of the dying Jesus, is Francis vision of Sister Death herself. We are all drawn into these eyes of mercy, for in the dying fire of Jesus eyes, we glimpse the miracle of heavenly birth, a vision which is clear with the light of eternity, a light not born of our pale sun, but of prophecy, and promise, and love.
In the life of our brother James, who was also our bishop and friend, we can easily see what a man is like when he is consumed by this longing. At an early age, the fiery angel of destiny whispered into his young ear, Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, the life. Accept Him as your master, and He will love you in this life and the next.
And so he did. The truth of the poets words became a creed for his life.
Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were a present for too small; Love so amazing, so Divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all. (Issac Watts)
All of our brothers actions became gifts to the Master, offered in gratitude for the knowledge of his salvation. All his life was invested in charity and reaped in service.
In the course of that life-long embrace of Gods will, our brother came to answer the call of the priesthood, and his course became affixed to those four bright stars which are the beacon of every priests life.
Meditate on the law of God, believe what you read, teach what you believe, and put into practice what you teach. (Rite of Ordination)
And the fine pursuit of these noble tenets eventually brought the trust of a grateful Church which made him her bishop, her shepherd to hold and guard the sheep, her sweet voice of Christs love, now stilled in the great sleep which will last until the Day of Judgement.
Brothers and sisters, it is sad that our lives must overlap. It is sad that some live longer and some live shorter lives. It is sad because we are human, and because we will miss one another. It is sad because a promise that was so strong and so selfless, should be taken from us so soon. But in the midst of the pain that we share, we must also call to mind that God has a purpose for each of us, and that only God can see into the soul of each of us, discerning there how we may play our part in the work of salvation. This church has known sorrow before, this church has borne heavy burdens. But oh how generous God is, to give us help when we need it. Today, we must begin to think of the future, we must turn to the work at hand, and resume the patient but insistent work of the Gospel, which is our mission and our life. Let us be thankful that today, in heaven, one more voice will lend its sonority to those powers which intercede for us unceasingly around the throne of God. Let us bid farewell to the brother we knew, who has been gathered on the way, enfolded by the truth, and crowned with the eternal Life which is Jesus Christ. May his faithful example remind us always to make this prayer our own:
Hold then your cross before my closing eyes; Shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies: Heavns morning breaks, and earths vain shadows flee; In life, in death O Lord, abide with me! (John Keble)