Funeral for a Friend
I once went to a funeral for a woman who worked at our old church. Rosemarie Kelley passed away quite suddenly. Her death took us all by surprise. She was one of those people you don’t always think about, just one of those people who is always there. And you don’t really notice just how important they are until they are gone. Rosemarie was one of those people who did just about everything around the church. When something needed doing, it was usually Rosemarie that did it.
The church was absolutely packed. It was standing room only, the kind of crowd you generally only see at Christmas and Easter. That should be a testimony to how many lives Rosemarie touched. There were at least ten priests in attendance, and if you are aware of the serious shortage of priests in the Roman Catholic Church in America, you know what a rare occurrence that is. Her casket was led in by the liturgical dance group, which she helped to create.
Most people don’t think of dance and church together in the same thought. I don’t know why that should be so. The Psalms clearly speak of dancers as well as musicians and singers. Dance is another expression of joy and hope, and of desperation and sorrow. It would be hard to imagine a Jewish celebration without dance. So, it seems only fitting and proper that dance be a part of any religious worship celebration. And this was a celebration, the celebration of a life well lived. And although there was not a dry eye in the church, there was no sense of sorrow. There is no sorrow in a life so well spent in the service of others. Rosemarie, in her life and in her death, reminds us that we are never alone.
Jesus said as much. At that last meal, he shared with his students, according to the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel According to John, he said, “If you love me you keep my commandments. And I will ask the father and another helper he will give to you to be with you in the coming age. The spirit of truth, which the world is not strong enough to accept because it can neither see it nor understand it. But you know it because it is in you and remains beside you.
“I do not abandon you bereaved; I come by your side. Yet a little, and the world sees me no more. But you will see me because I live in you and you will live. And in that day you will know that I am in the father and you are in me and I am in you. The ones holding my commands and guarding them loves me and I love them and to them I reveal myself. (Big Daddy translation from the Greek)”
Before Jesus came along, according to Jewish thought, there was God and then there was humankind. There we were, cast out of the garden, cut off from God, able only to ask God to help us in time of need and grant us prosperity, to save us from our enemies as long as we kept his commandments, a long and complicated list of rules and rituals. But now Jesus, the son of man, proclaims that he, himself, lives in God and that God lives in him, and that he lives in us, and we in him. And so, God lives in each one of us. We are a part of the divine and the divine is a part of us. As such, I, then live in you, and you live in me, and we all live in one another. We all share the same spirit, the spirit of truth.
Jesus came and taught his message. He came to change our way of thinking. He taught us that all around us was holy, that we should love one another, even as he loved us, so much so that he was to give his life for us. Whether his death was necessary or not is open to argument, yet certainly Jesus believed it was necessary, and so did his followers. So, to his followers he said that if they loved him, they would keep those commandments, to love and serve one another. This is how you show faith.
To this end, we have that Spirit of Truth. You see it around. You know it when you hear it. Truth. That it is better to build up than to tear down. Truth. That it is better to heal than to kill. Truth. That it is better to share kind words than to curse. Truth. That it is better to give than to receive. Truth. Love is stronger than hate. Kindness is stronger than cruelty. Hope is stronger than despair. Faith can move mountains; doubt can do nothing. As Jesus said, we know the truth when we hear it. And those who seek the Tao, the way, the path, the Atman, follow it. Those who teach anything else come only to bring darkness and destruction; they are thieves and robbers.
Sometimes, to live by that spirit of truth is difficult. Sometimes it feels like you’re the only one trying to do the right thing. Sometimes you feel like you’re the only one trying to spread a little love and you hear those words in your head, “Nice guys finish last”. Maybe they do, but nice guys finish strong. I’d rather be the last man standing, than the first to fall. Still, sometimes you wonder why you bother when it seems like you aren’t making any difference in the world. But Jesus said he would never leave us alone, “bereaved” is the Greek word. It carries the meaning of being left an orphan, grieving the loss of his or her parents. He would not leave us orphans, alone in the world. Jesus said that he lived in us and we live in him, and as God lives in him, so God lives in each one of us.
There is a story about a man walking along the beach at low tide. There, on the sand, were thousands of starfish, stranded, with the hot sun of the morning beating down upon them, drying them out. The man could not help but feel a little sad at the sight of all these star fish, dying in the sun, so close to the water that could save them. As he walked along, he came upon a little child. The child was picking up starfish and casting them out as far as he could into the waves. The man approached the child and asked, “Do you really think you can make a difference?” And the reply from the child was, “I did for THAT one.”
Somehow it seems appropriate that it is the Fourteenth Psalm (like the 14th chapter of John?) that proclaims, “The fool says in his heart, ‘there is no God.’” So many want to see God coming in the clouds in glory, in the burning bush, in the pillar of fire, in earthquakes, in miracles, in signs and wonders. That isn’t where you find God. You find God in each act of kindness, in each kind word, in each act of compassion. God is not a noun. God is a verb. When Moses asked whom he should say sent him, he was told to tell them I AM. Tell them I AM sent you. You don’t see God in nouns. You see God in verbs. If you have not found God, it is because you are looking in the wrong places. God is revealed, according to Jesus, in love.
And so, I know that I will never die. Just as Jesus said, I live on in you, and you live on in me. When I look at any member of our parish, I know I will see Rosemarie Kelley in them. How could it be otherwise? She touched the lives of so many? Could you really believe that there is not a part of you alive in all those people you touch each day? Do you really think yourself as unimportant as that? Your spirit, your love passes to each person you meet, and they will remember your touch.
I know my life here is short. At 62, I have not that many more years ahead of me. There are certainly fewer years ahead of me than behind me. My race is more than halfway run. So, as Jesus said, “Yet a little, and the world sees me no more. But you will see me because I live in you… “ I will live forever in those people I have touched. I am a part of them, as they are a part of me. We share energy. We share that Spirit of Truth. We are the hands of the divine. As Jesus said, we are the light of the world. Rosemarie Kelley was a shining light in the darkness, and we shall all here miss her presence. But we shall not miss her light. It shines on in us.
“Death is not extinguishing the light; it is putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.”—Tagore, Brahman religionist and Nobel Prize winner.