Wednesday, March 8, 2023
The Rev’d Charles Everson
1 Thess. 4:13-18
When I was 32-years-old, I began to discern a call to ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church. The call previously manifested itself in a Southern Baptist context, and it never really left during the time I was Roman Catholic and eventually Episcopalian. During the interview process with the Commission on Ministry in Kansas, I was asked the typical questions: “Why do you feel called to be a priest” and “What excites you most about the thought of leading a parish” and so on. One question I hadn’t thought about before then was, “What causes you the most fear and anxiety when you envision life as a priest?” The answer came to me immediately without any additional thought: “I am afraid of dealing with death. The thought of being pastoral with those who are dying, and with their families, is scary to me.”
Death is not something we deal with very well in our day and age. When this building was built in 1887, life expectancy in the United States was 41.1 years of age and by 2020, it had climbed to 78.81 years of age. When the average person dies at the age of 40, death is part of human existence from a very early age. I didn’t experience death of a close family member until my grandmother died when I was 20.
Not long after that Commission on Ministry interview, I was called on to officiate a funeral of the 17-year-old son of a co-worker at the bank who had hung himself from a tree. Two years later, the bank owner’s son died at the age of 20 of a drug overdose. My second funeral here at St. Mary’s was for now parishioners Erika and Bryan Atkins’ daughter who died tragically at the age of 18, and just this week, my step-dad’s best friend’s 33-year-old son named Tim died suddenly and I’ve been asked to officiate his funeral.
I no longer fear death. No matter when death occurs – tragically at a young age, or after a long and fruitful life full of love – fear is no longer part of my experience. But sadness and grief certainly are. As Paul says to the Church at Thessalonica, we Christians do not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. This isn’t an intangible hope that we just feel in our hearts, it is palpable and manifested perhaps most fully in the gritty elements of bread and wine. In the Eucharist, we are given a foretaste of the heavenly banquet when we will be united with Jesus and those in Heaven in a way we can’t even begin to fathom. When we receive the bread and wine, we are given a sure and certain hope that one day, we will be reunited with those we love but see no more.
Dear friends, as we celebrate this requiem mass, we grieve and mourn our beloved dead, but we do so without fear. For Christ has conquered death, and through these simple creatures of bread and wine, we have hope that we will feast with them in heaven where there is no death, neither sorrow nor crying, but the fulness of joy with all the saints.
The sermons preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!