A Funeral Homily
HOMILY: The Start of Something New
After a difficult winter marked by illness, Ray lived into the spring of this year before leaving us for that place of rest "where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting." [From the Commendation in the Burial of the Dead, The Book of Common Prayer (New York: Church Hymnal Corporation, 1979), p. 499.]
Since last Saturday, many of us have been remembering Ray, our life with him, special incidents, and the character of the man himself.
Two features in particular have stood out in what I have heard. The first is that Ray was honest. The other was that he had a clever wit.
To say someone is honest is a high compliment, for while all people ought to be honest, many are not, and it happens often in this world that initial honesty is compromised and corroded in manifold ways down through the years, so that what is left in the end lacks integrity. This process is common enough that we call it the way of the world. But this was not the way with Ray Hayden. So to say of him at the end of his seventy-seven years that he was a honest man is indeed high praise.
To be honest is to be loyal to the truth as you know it. It means to speak the truth whenever you speak, and not to mislead others by your silence when you choose not to speak.
Honesty in regard to the truth is the flip side of fidelity in regard to relationships. We are called not only to speak correctly, but to live correctly with the people around us, so far as that lies within our power.
None of us does this perfectly, and I'm sure Ray had his share of failings. But his life was marked by a persistent pursuit of truthful speaking and loyalty to others, and that gives us ample reason today for gratitude to almighty God. I know that Ray and Joan's children are eternally grateful to God for their dad, and they are grateful to their dad for God, for their knowledge and awareness of God.
For it is God who gives us the model for loyalty in relationships and truthful speech. As Scripture attests with insistence, God enters into covenant with his people, a relationship God never breaks. God speaks to us his healing truth, God values immensely his relationship with us his people and with each of us individually.
Ray entered into this covenant years ago when he was baptized, something, I am told, that he chose for himself when he was a young adult.
He responded to this covenant in numerous ways, including worship in this congregation, service on the vestry, and the use over many years of Forward Day by Day, a devotional guide published by the Episcopal Church.
Ray's honesty in speech, his fidelity in relationships was shaped and strengthened by what he knew of God's own fidelity and honesty. In numerous ways he endeavored to answer the God who speaks to us most eloquently in the person of Jesus Christ.
Grace was apparent in Ray's honesty and fidelity, but also in his sharp wit. He saw how things are and how they ought to be, and often made the difference a foundation for humor. Rather than choose a response of despair, he believed that this gap would not last forever, he believed that God's kingdom would come in due course, and that, despite everything, the human project is far less tragic than it is comic.
There is wisdom in this, the same wisdom that appears when the Church calls the day of crucifixion "Good Friday" because we know thet Calvary is not the final scene. There comes as well also the garden and the empty tomb and shock on the faces of the disciples, a scene hilarious with sublime comedy as God himself makes a fool of death. Ray's wit was, I believe, an echo of Easter.
There is something of Ray's honest speech and sharp wit in this day chosen for his funeral. On the church calendar today is the Annunciation, or more fully, the Annunciation of Our Lord Jesus Christ to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Today is the day, nine months before Christmas, when Christians recall the angel's appearance to that young girl in Nazareth, the invitation that she become the mother of our Savior. The Annunciation is the day when something starts, something wonderful, the Jesus story and the arrival of our salvation. It was for this reason that at one time today and not January 1 was the start of the civil year.
So we miss the point of it all if we see today merely as marking the end of Ray's earthly life, the end of relationships we have had with him. Today celebrates instead the start, the start of something new and wonderful, Ray's intensified life with God, and the transfiguration of our relationships with him, as he becomes for us an emblem of hope, a reminder that for us too there are rooms waiting in our Father's house and a warm welcome home.
For us this day, March 25, the Annunciation, promises that Christmas is nine months in the future. Yet today it tells us too that for Ray, Christmas has come already, the best Christmas of them all, where everything is made new, and God's gift to us is life eternal.
Copyright 2008, Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission. Fr. Hoffacker is the author of A Matter of Life and Death: Preaching at Funerals (Cowley Publications), a book devoted to helping busy clergy prepare funeral homilies that are faithful, pastoral, and personal.