I generally do not post funeral sermons. I am, however, posting this one with the permission and encouragement of Janice, Brian’s mother. Brian was forty-three years old when he died and is survived by his parents and two brothers.
“What God creates God loves, and what God loves God loves everlastingly.”
I hope you will listen closely to those words, cling to them, and let them sink deeply into your life and into your heart. Let them echo through this day and carry you into the next. They are the thread that runs through everything I will say to you. They speak a truth about Brian and about you. If there is anything that overcomes and sees us through death it is love, a “love stronger than death.”
“What God creates God loves, and what God loves God loves everlastingly.” Those words were true for Brian before he died and they are true for him today. They were true for you before Brian died, they are true for you today, and they will be true for you tomorrow.
While I believe the truth of those words and the strength of God’s love I also know those words do not take away the grief, dry the tears, or answer the questions we bring today.
I think we come here today with two main questions. Our first question is the same one Thomas asks in today’s gospel (John 14:1-6). “How can we know the way?”
How can a parent who outlives his son, a parent who outlives her boy, possibly know the way? We can’t. How can we know the way when a loved one or friend dies and life gives us what we never asked for or wanted? How can we know the way when death shatters our world and nothing makes sense anymore? We can’t. We don’t.
As difficult as this first question is, there is another. I think many of us bring a second question to this day. Some of you may have asked it aloud and others may have struggled with it silently. Why didn’t he tell us?
Why didn’t he tell us he was sick? Why didn’t he give us the opportunity to be there, to help, to love him through this? I don’t think it’s so much a question we are asking Brian but a question we are asking ourselves. It’s a question that comes from a deep and profound grief, a grief that causes us to wonder or believe, “I should have known. I should have seen something. I should have picked up on something he said. If only I had figured it out I could’ve done something. I would’ve said this or done that. I could’ve made a difference.”
I’ve thought a lot about this second question. I didn’t have the privilege of knowing Brian but over the last few weeks I’ve heard stories about him, learned what he was like, and gained more information about how he died and what happened. As I did, I realized that Brian had made a decision. He was intentional about how this would go. This was not unplanned. He had something in his mind and in his heart.
Janice, I gained even more clarity about this when you told me that you all had chosen John 14 for today’s gospel, that story about the many rooms in the Father’s house and Jesus’ promises to prepare a place for us and to be with us in that place. What I have come to believe and understand is that Brian was not depriving anyone of anything. He was not depriving you of helping and loving him through all this; this was his way of helping and loving you through all this. You were the ones in his mind and in his heart. He was saying to you, “I know the way. I am already ok.”
Brian chose a room in the Father’s house over a bed in a hospital. Now that’s someone who knows the way, someone who is ok within himself, someone who knows the many rooms of the Father’s house: rooms of life, healing, light, and love; rooms of hope, mercy and forgiveness; rooms of beauty and generosity. Brian knew what Thomas and we do not. He knew the way and he knew he was ok. Grief has hidden that from us but not from Brian.
Brian did this his way. It was his way of loving and reassuring you. It may not be the way we would choose for ourselves or would have chosen for Brian, but it was his way and we need to trust and honor that.
When I say that Brian did this his way I don’t mean Brian did it his way in the sense of that old Frank Sinatra song. Brian’s way, from everything I can see, was grounded in his love for you, grounded in the everlasting love of God, grounded in the promises of Christ, and grounded in the knowledge that his life was daily being renewed even as his body was dying.
We who remain might be able to name the day or maybe even the hour of his death. Brian, however, never knew the moment of his death. He simply passed from this life to the next life. He knew the way.
I need you to trust me and work with me on what I am going to say next. It won’t seem true but it is. Brian’s love, his life, and his presence are as real today as before he died. I know it doesn’t look like that and it sure doesn’t feel like that. I know that your grief and tears are saying that it’s not true. But I promise you it is. It is the gospel truth. His love, his life, and his presence are different today but just as real. That means we must learn to listen, to see, and to speak differently.
It means we must listen with the ears of our heart. We must listen for his voice when it seems that silence is all we hear. We must trust that his voice has never grown quiet. In a few minutes we’ll come to that place in the prayers where we say that we are “joining our voices with the Angels, and Archangels, and with all the company of heaven.” “All the company of heaven.” That means Brian’s voice and the voices of all those we love who have died. Their voices and our voices become one voice offering praise and thanksgiving to the God who creates and gives life, the God who renews and heals life, the God whose love overcomes death. So when we get to that place in the liturgy slow down, open the ears of your heart, and listen. Listen for Brian’s voice. It’s there with the Angels, and Archangels, and all the company of heaven.
We must be willing to see more than we think is there. We must be willing to let ourselves be surprised. We must look for Brian’s presence in new and different ways. We must keep the eyes of our heart open — because you never know when a redbird might show up.
Finally, tell the stories about Brian and speak his name. Tell the stories of how his life intersected yours. Tell about the joys and laughter, the sorrows and losses, the successes and failures. Tell how, as I read on Facebook, Brian could in one breath bless you and in the next cuss you. Tell the ways in which he touched your life and made a difference. Never stop telling the stories. Those stories are not simply words, they create and call forth presence. So when you tell the stories about Brian speak not so much with your lips but with your heart. Those stories are not just a recollection of past events, a recitation of history. They are the never-ending story of Brian’s life.
None of this will end the grief you have today and it won’t undo what has happened. I know that. Instead, it renews our hope and our confidence that there is a way forward even when we can’t know the way, even when we don’t see it, and even when we don’t believe it. You see, life is far too sacred and the love of God and the love of Brian are far too strong, for death to have the final word.
Life has changed, not ended. And that’s why on this day, “even at the grave, we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”