The Funeral of Jack Butcher

© Photo from Good Shepherd archives
Published by Josh Hosler on Sun, Apr 7, 2019 3:22 PM
Sermon

homily preached by the Rev. Josh Hosler
Rector, the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, Federal Way, WA
Saturday, April 6, 2019
Reading: John 14:1-6

The Gospel

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’

 

The Homily

A few mornings ago I saw some words flash across Facebook: “A different version of you exists in the minds of everyone who knows you.”

Yeah, that’s clever, I thought, and then I scrolled down, and scrolled down, and … well, you know how this unfortunate habit tends to go.

But the words came back to me moments later as I was praying for Jack, and for Jack’s family, and trying to get some words into the keyboard about Jack. And I thought, yes, that’s right. A different version of Jack exists in the minds of all those who knew him. And none of them is the real, complete Jack.

Well, it’s easy to get all intellectual at an emotional time, as a sort of defense mechanism. I’m certainly prone to that. But our purpose today is to remember, to honor, the real Jack—and not only that, but to do so in a specific way that Christians have done for many centuries. Today the Church is gathering in the middle of Lent—a time of penitence and fasting—to announce Resurrection!

A lot of people think the season of Lent is all about making yourself miserable. Avoiding chocolate, or extra trips to the gym, or some other self-improvement scheme is supposed to bring you closer to God or something. Well, let me clarify right now that Lent is not for the purpose of losing weight. It’s not even for the purpose of making yourself a better person. It’s for the purpose of letting God in, regardless of the consequences.

When someone we love dies, it’s like Lent is forced upon us. We don’t want to be in the wilderness, soul laid bare, depending on God for whatever God sends us. But in our grief, that’s what we’re left with. Jack is not here anymore, and it’s not OK, and come to think of it, we don’t understand how or why any of us is even here in the first place. We only know that we loved Jack and we want him back. We realize afresh that we’re always in a state of utter dependence and uncertainty, and we don’t know what the new normal will look like.

In the midst of all that pain, despite the fact that it’s still Lent, the Church gathers together to announce Resurrection.

People say all sorts of things when someone dies. They say, “He’s in a better place,” or, “God needed another angel,” or, “Isn’t it good that we had him as long as we did?”. These platitudes are often spoken to make the speaker feel better rather than the one who is grieving.

But these are not the things the Church says at this time. The Church, instead, walks right into the middle of the discomfort—calls it pain, because that’s what it is—announces that this pain is well worth all the tears we can give it—and then sets it in a new context called Resurrection. And this word, Resurrection—it doesn’t just mean “heaven after you die.” Don’t get me wrong—I do believe in that. But Resurrection is way bigger than that. It’s about the redemption of pain, the renewal of those who are hurting. It’s about Jesus making all things new.

The words we just heard, Jesus spoke to his disciples the night before he died. At least, that’s how the gospel writer John presents them. More likely than not, John’s purpose in collecting a whole bunch of words of Jesus in this specific place in the narrative was to instruct newcomers to the Christian faith—just as the cinematographer of a good biopic makes editorial decisions to present the subject in a certain light and to teach us valuable insights.

There’s nothing wrong with this—it’s just John’s version of Jesus. Because there’s a different version of Jesus in the minds of everyone who’s ever heard of that one carpenter from Nazareth who was walking the earth precisely 2000 years ago. And not even those of the gospel writers are the real, complete Jesus, just like none of our memories of Jack alone is the real, complete Jack.

But Resurrection proclaims that all our remembered versions of Jack are treasured and loved and cradled and upheld and honored and cherished—that they are all a part of who Jack is now—and that whatever you believe about “heaven after you die,” Jack is more alive right now than ever before.

What gall the Church has! What right do we have to say this, really?

Well, we say that Jack is more alive because of our experience of Jesus being more alive, and because of Jesus’ promise that we will be like he is.

John has Jesus tell us that he goes ahead of us, to prepare a way for us. Jesus walks into the uncertainty—the places Thomas refers to when he says, “We don’t know where you’re going; how can we know the way?” That poignant phrase describes all of our lives, and it describes all of our deaths. And this is precisely the place where Jesus goes: first joining us in life, and then moving forward into death.

The thing is, Jesus will return from death, not to exact revenge on the Roman soldiers who killed him, but to reassure the friends he made promises to. “Fear not,” he will say, knowing full well that we have every reason to fear and every right to fear and that nothing will stop that … but still, “Fear not. Believe—which means, trust me. I will come back again for you and take you to myself. Because you cannot possibly fail to go where I am going.

“You don’t even have to know the way,” says Jesus. “I know you can’t possibly know the way, but that’s OK, because I am there, and I am here. I walk with your every step. I am the way you are going. I am the truth you are always seeking. I am the life you are always living. When you draw close to God, you necessarily draw close to me, your friend, your teacher, your healer, the one who calls you by name.”

I don’t need to tell you what Jack was like, because I’m a latecomer to the party. My version of Jack is a limited one. I only know from all your versions of Jack that Jack was one of those who heard God call his name and decided to follow.

Today, I invite you to do the same: to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and to follow. Walk right into the uncertainty and keep on going, because Jesus the Good Shepherd is here with us now. Jesus the Christ is in the bread and wine we are about to share. Jesus the Redeemer is in every corner of your heart, no matter how joyful or shameful. And Jesus of Nazareth goes ahead of all of us, along with our beloved Jack, through death and beyond. Amen.   

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