Dcn. Gerry Shaon’s Funeral Mass
September 12, 2020
The Rev’d Charles W. Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Our gospel lesson begins by St. John telling us that when Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. What he means to say here is that Lazarus was truly dead. As in dead as a doornail. With him were many of their fellow Jews, likely friends of the family, who had come to console his sisters.
Martha takes the initiative and goes to meet with Jesus while Mary decides to stay home. She says to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Was she accusing Jesus of being negligent by not being there, or is she simply making a plain statement of fact? It isn’t clear in the text, but her brother had just died. I’m not sure about you, but when someone I love dies, no matter how prepared I may feel, I get emotional. It’s only human of Martha to question Jesus in the face of the death of her brother: Where were you?
Similarly, you and I have asked over the past few weeks, “God, where were you when Gerry got COVID-19? Where were you when he suffered alone for weeks on end during a time when no one could visit him? Why Gerry?”
Martha doesn’t let her accusation be her last word. She immediately follows it by acknowledging that despite the fact that Jesus wasn’t there and her brother died, God will give Jesus whatever he asks of him. Her questioning of Jesus isn’t indicative that she has no faith; rather, it shows that she has enough faith to approach him.
I remember Gerry’s not-so-subtle commentary about sermons preached from this very pulpit. His comments were mostly high praise using flowery language, but there was the occasional biting comment like, “Well, he tried to land the plane three times before finally finishing that sermon, but each time, he grabbed the throttle and went back up. He should have landed the first time.” He rarely commented about my sermons, at least to me. After I preached a sermon about the how the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead gives us hope that we, too, will be raised at the last day, he said, “I sometimes have my doubts about the physical resurrection of the body.” I replied, “Do you have to cross your fingers when you say the Creeds?” He said, “Not at all. Despite my doubts, I’m glad to affirm the resurrection of the dead in the Creeds along with the rest of the Church. Somehow, saying it with all of you, I am reminded that it’s worth pondering and even worth considering despite my doubts.”
Death doesn’t just make us question God in our despair, it forces us to be face to face with the nature of death itself. When Jesus says to her, “Martha, your brother will rise again,” Martha responds, “I know that he will rise again to the resurrection on the last day.” She knew the theology behind why the dead will be raised at the last day. This leads Jesus to get to the heart of the matter. He says, “I am the resurrection and I am the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” In other words, the answer to Martha’s questions – the answer to all our questions of God during this horrible time is not an idea, but a person.
That person is Jesus Christ. He is the one to whom Gerry gave his life: in baptism, in confirmation, in marriage (despite marriage between two men not being allowed at the time), in his vows as a deacon, and in his death. Don’t mishear me – I’m not giving an evangelical altar call for you to come down the aisle and accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. Gerry’s life and death invite us all into a deeper relationship with Jesus, not merely as a personal Lord and Savior, but as the one who loved his Bride, the Church, so much that he gave his life for her. We are invited to enter into a closer relationship with Jesus and his Bride, the Church…with our parish family, the wider diocese, and the Church around the world.
Gerry served Jesus faithfully at this parish as a deacon, at the diocesan level on countless committees and task forces over the years, and in Nicaragua at the school he helped to start along with the good people of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. But that’s enough about him. Gerry and I attended a funeral together once, and the sermon was essentially a eulogy of the person who died, and he didn’t hold back in his criticism of that. “Funeral sermons should be about Jesus,” he said, “not the person who died.”
So as we grieve and mourn, I invite you to join me in considering how we might follow Gerry’s example in deepening our relationship with Jesus and his Church. If you’ve never followed his call to be baptized, God longs to welcome you into the Church! If you’ve fallen away, God longs for you to come home. If you have doubts about God’s existence or some doctrine of the church like the resurrection of the body, grapple with those doubts together with others in this parish community or your own.
Jesus responds to Martha’s doubts, “I am the resurrection and I am the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”
Let us give thanks to God for Martha’s deep faith, despite her doubts. And as we recite the Apostle’s Creed in a moment and proclaim that we believe in the resurrection of the body, let us give thanks to God for Gerry’s deep faith, despite his doubts.
May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
The sermons preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!