Yesterday, April 3, 2012 was a gorgeous spring day. It started off as a sad day as I had to drive to Richmond for the funeral of a friend of many years. A friend whose death came way too soon.
During my drive to the church I did not notice the beauty of the day as I was instead focused on the melancholy of my journey. I arrived at the Church; St. Mary’s Episcopal in Goochland Virginia. I realized that I had visited it once before, many years ago when a Cadet at Virginia Military Institute. It is a plain and simple country church nestled in a peaceful wooded grove. This was plainly a Low Church Episcopal parish; there would be no smells and bells, no neo catholic practices, this would be a funeral service in the Protestant tradition which Cranmer envisioned.
Once I entered the church I found a seat in the back. While waiting for the service to begin I gazed towards the altar. Unlike many Episcopal Churches there was no stained glass window behind the altar rather, there was a large clear window with a view of the woods.
As the start of the service neared, the organist played one of the most beautiful hymns of Christianity, Bach’s, Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring. When the organist concluded prelude, the minister intoned the comforting words of the Book of Common Prayer,
I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.
I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth; and though this body be destroyed, yet shall I see God; whom I shall see for myself and mine eyes shall behold, and not as a stranger.
For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For if we live, we live unto the Lord; and if we die, we die unto the Lord. Whether we live, therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.
Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord; even so saith the Spirit, for they rest from their labors.
My eyes welled up as I thought of my friend, of his death too soon. The melancholy of the day weight upon me as I thought of his wife and daughters, his sister, and his friends and brothers rats, and how my friend’s death would weight upon them.
As the services progressed, I began to notice the woods behind the altar. They were vernal woods, decorated with palette of whites, pinks, and greens. New life was bursting forth as the cold shadows of winter were being replaced. As the Gospel was being read I had a epiphany between the readings of service for the Burial of the Dead and message of Christianity. The gospel reading was John 14: 1-6:
Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.
2In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.
4And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.
5Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?
6Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
By accepting Jesus, we regardless of our sins, will find life after death. As we are taught in the Nicene Creed;
who for us men and for our salvation
came down from heaven,
and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary,
and was made man;
and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered and was buried;
and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures,
and ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of the Father;
and he shall come again, with glory,
to judge both the quick and the dead;
whose kingdom shall have no end.
While not startling my epiphany for me the lapsed Christian put in perspective my life, the life of my friends whose funeral I was attending, and all believers lives; that in accepting Jesus as our savior we will find everlasting life.
As the funeral ended and I left the Church and prepared to drive the twenty or so miles to Hollywood Cemetery, I was no longer fixated on the sadness I felt because of my friends death, rather I was soaking up the signs of rebirth that come each spring; the rebirth that my friend experience through death and his belief in Jesus as our savior. The rebirth we will all experience when we leave this mortal world and because of our belief in Jesus as our savior, experience eternal life.
A death of a man so young can be thought of as a tragedy, if instead we view it through the lens of Christianity, it is a reminder as we prepare to celebrate Easter, that Christ death and resurrection, our belief of Jesus as our savior, allows us not to see death as a sad event, but to celebrate the eternal life of those departed.