Sunday, July 07, 2013

The Sacred Journey

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
July 7, 2013

Memorial Service for Juney L. James, Jr.
Lamentations 3:22-26, 31-33
Psalm 121
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
John 11:21-27
The Sacred Journey
            One of the more difficult challenges for a priest is to offer a homily at the funeral for someone we never had the chance to meet. And, unless our paths crossed here at St. Paul’s years ago, that’s the case today. I had never had the privilege of meeting and knowing Juney. But, reading about him and hearing about him makes me wish that I had.
            Although I didn’t know Juney, I do know some of his family pretty well. So, I know he comes from people who are strong in the face of adversity – people who love generously and smile easily – people who have known great sadness but who are the last to give up hope.
            Everything I’ve read and heard about Juney tells me that’s the kind of person he was. So, I know even now, a few months after his death, your grief must be very deep. But, I also imagine that you’ve spent a lot of time remembering happy days together. And, knowing the deep faith of Juney’s family, I’m sure that over the past few months you’ve taken comfort in the Lord’s promise to never abandon us – the Lord’s promise to be with us always, even to the end – the Lord’s promise that death is not the end for those who trust in him.             
            I pray that those happy memories and our Lord’s promises will comfort you and help your grief and healing.
            Like most, if not all, of you I live my life focused on the day to day: what do I need to get done today, this hour, this minute; paying bills that need to be paid; trying to keep up with family and friends; making grocery lists; chilling out in front of the TV…you get the idea.
            But, when I stop, take a breath, give myself some quiet and really pay attention, I’m reminded that life is a journey.
            We are all on a journey together – a journey from God to God.
            Since we’re usually focused on the day to day, most of the time we can’t really see the shape of our journey. But, at the big milestones of life, especially births and deaths, we do get a sense of our sacred journey that’s full of unexpected twists and turns, our sacred journey that’s marked by moments of profound grief and overflowing joy.
            And our brother Jesus’ earthly life was also a sacred journey – a journey from the manger in Bethlehem – to growing up in Nazareth – to beginning his ministry in the waters of the River Jordan – to facing betrayal, rejection and death in Jerusalem.
            Today we heard about one of the biggest moments of Jesus’ sacred journey in the passage I just read from the Gospel of John.
            To back up just a bit, Jesus has arrived in Bethany after the death of his friend Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary. We’re told that Lazarus has already been in the tomb four days. Four days. All hope would seem to be lost.
            In the passage I read today, Martha goes out to greet Jesus. She expresses great confidence in him, saying, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask him.”
            Jesus tells Martha, “Your brother will rise again.”
            She understandably misunderstands, thinking that Jesus is looking ahead to the last day. But, despite her confusion, Martha expresses deep faith in Jesus.
            We didn’t hear the rest of the story.
            Jesus next encounters Martha’s sister Mary who also expresses faith in Jesus. But, she weeps. And the people around her weep. And, Jesus himself began to weep.
            Jesus, the Son of God, experiences – knows – the profound sadness and grief we feel when someone we love dies.
            And then Jesus performs his greatest sign of all – raising the dead man who had been in the tomb four days.
            Hope conquers grief. Love is stronger than death.
            The raising of Lazarus is one of the most important moments in Jesus’ sacred journey. Maybe, in a sense, it’s a moment when Jesus recognizes more clearly who he really is – understands better the nature of his life and his mission.
            Maybe it’s a moment when Jesus recognizes that his own life would end in a way leading many to believe that all hope was lost. But, three days later, through the empty tomb the whole world would someday come to know that hope is stronger than grief and love conquers death.
            Now, Juney’s sacred journey – his sacred journey from Antigua to Jersey City and back to Antigua – has come to an end.
            Along the way of Juney’s sacred journey, I’m sure like all of us he made some mistakes, turned left when he should’ve turned right, disappointed others and even let himself down.
            But, along the way of Juney’s sacred journey it’s obvious that he brought much joy and fun to so many people both here and back on Antigua.
            And, along the way of Juney’s sacred journey, he gave life to six children and five children.
            Now, Juney’s sacred journey has come to an end, back home on Antigua, but really back in the full presence and glory of the God who imagined him, created him and loved him through the bad times and the good times.
            But, for us, the sacred journey continues.
            So, as we grieve, as we remember and celebrate Juney, may we also stop and pay attention to our own lives.
            May we remember that we are all on a sacred journey filled with lots of twists and turns – a sacred journey from God back to God.