The Rev. Larry J. Hofer
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
State College, PA
January 4, 2013
Mack Brady Sermon
We came here today to share our grief and sadness, to give thanks for the life of Mack Brady and to hear God’s word and receive the grace of the Eucharistic feast.
We are gathered to mourn the loss of Mack. There is deep mourning here and that is as it should be. The Prayer Book teaches us that human grief is an appropriate response before the gravity of death. “The very love we have for each other in Christ brings deep sorrow when we are parted by death. Jesus himself wept at the grave of his friend. So, while we rejoice that one we love has entered into the nearer presence of our Lord, we sorrow in sympathy with those who mourn.” Our grief is made the more intense for we weep this day for a child and for the loss of him. The poet Richard Wilbur reminds us of the earthly character of our love with the title of his poem “Love Calls Us to the Things of This World.” And not only the things of this world, but the people of this world. And so, again with the words of the Prayer Book we pray, “In your boundless compassion, console us who mourn, give us faith to see in death the gate of eternal life, so that in quiet confidence we may continue our course on earth, until we are reunited with those who have gone before.” In the midst of these things we cannot understand, we pray and we hope.
William Coffin, the Chaplain at Yale and later the pastor of Riverside Church in New York, on the untimely death of his son Alex, said, “God was the first to weep for my son.” This declaration was occasioned by the attempt of friends who sought to comfort him with the statement, “It is the will of God.” Coffin said, no, God does not go around this world causing unnatural deaths. On the death of his son and God’s work, he said, “God’s heart was the first of all our hearts to break.” And so it is today that God weeps for His children and for this child.
And what a child! Many of you know Mack much better than I. I have been away from State College for nearly five years. But I did see Mack when he would visit his grandparents Nancy & Ken, in Rehoboth Beach. My most enduring memory is of the sheer joy and happiness of his personality. His enthusiasm for soccer and as a goalkeeper for the State College Celtics was unbounded. He played fearlessly and with enthusiasm. He also loved comics and people. He had a great sense of humor and was a team player. At the very heart and most loved center of his life was his family: Chris, Elizabeth, Izzy and his larger family.
What makes this occasion especially poignant is his youth, of promise unfulfilled, the future robbed. But in a still deeper way, our children are insights into the kingdom of God. In St. Mark’s Gospel our Lord says to his disciples, “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God. And then to his disciples and the adults present, he adds, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” For years, I puzzled over this text and then there was a moment of insight at the Daly Plaza in Chicago. Susan, the children and I would sometimes pack a lunch and go to the Daly Plaza and listen to folk music. Our favorite was a group from the University of Chicago where we worked and lived, known as “More to be Pitied Then Censored.” As we were eating lunch and waiting for the band, we noticed two nuns leading a classroom of six or seven year olds down Dearborn St. to the entrance of the center. The Plaza is a story or so below the level of the street. As the children approached the steps, the sisters were admonishing them to be careful going down the steps. But it was not to be, at first the children started down the steps in an orderly way, but then they began to run and have a great time. What the teachers saw as a danger they saw as an occasion for joy. That is, what it seems to me, why children are signs of the kingdom. They give us a perception of the world filled with joy and hope, and help us see the world in a different way. Friedrich Schleiermacher, the 19th Century German pastor and theologian wrote of children, “they are (also) an immediate blessing upon the house; they give easily as much as they receive; they freshen life and gladden the heart.” And Mack too, participated in our seeing the world in a different way with possibilities of joy and delight. People have used these very terms to describe Mack – “a joy and a delight, full of fun, a person who would make you laugh, a pleasure to be with.”
We come here too to seek hope and comfort in the scriptures.
St. Paul in the great 8th chapter of Romans speaks of the redemption of Christ in cosmic terms – “The whole creation has been groaning in travail until now.” Then Paul moves on to the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of prayer – “for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. When we cannot pray the Spirit prays for us – And sometimes like the Spirit, we have only sighs to offer to God. Paul presses on, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, will he not give us all things with him? It is Christ who died, yes, who was raised from the dead. What shall separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus? Nothing. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.”
Paul saw the resurrection as an accomplished fact in Christ, for [the Gospel of] John it is a present reality. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord if you would have been here my brother would not have died.” Jesus, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha, “I know that he will rise again at the last day. Jesus, “I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live… Do you believe this?” Martha, “Yes, Lord I believe you are the Christ, the Son of God who is coming into the world.” The Resurrection is now. It is a present reality. We have already entered into the new life of the resurrection.
And so on this day we seek comfort in the love and support we give one another, for as Pastor Coffin said “…love not only begets love, it transmits strength.” and in the memory of Mack and his life, and in the promises of God.
Over the years, many of us have found hope and comfort in the final chorale of Bach’s St. John Passion,
Lord let at last Thine angels come
To Abram’s bosom bear me home
That I may die unfearing…
And then from death awaken me,
That these mine eyes with joy may see,
Oh Son of God, thy glorious face,
My Savior and my fount of grace…
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen