O God, who knows all our lights and all our shadows, look with compassion on this Your child who has taken His life with his own hand and receive him as Your own. Deal graciously, we pray, with those who love him, and grant that in all their troubles they may now Your healing and redeeming love, made known to us in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
O blessed Lord, You ministered to all who came to You: Look with compassion upon all those who through addiction have lost their health and freedom. Restore to them the assurance of Your unfailing mercy; remove from them the fears that beset them; strengthen them in the work of their recovery; and to those who care for them, give patient understanding and persevering love. Amen.
Good afternoon. I would imagine that those of you who knew Jason pretty well might be shocked to find a guy in a collar at his funeral, especially given the circumstances of his untimely death. At times, Jason lived a life that was anything but holy and righteous. At times, Jason was in open rebellion against God. Maybe, you are thinking, he might speak with a guy in a suit, but a collar?! Truthfully, I must say to Terri & Robert and the rest of the family, I truly did mean it when I offered to Rhonda to do the service. I do thank you for the difficult privilege of trying to speak God’s redeeming Word and promise into a situation such as Jason’s death. For those of you not particularly liturgical in your religious DNA, don’t freak out too much. Jason did not make it to Rome. I am actually an Episcopal (or Anglican, if that helps) priest. Had Jason been sick and dying, you can bet that this service would have included a Eucharist at Jason’s insistence. I would have had that talk with him. When he made it to church, he was what we referred to as a “Rite 1er.” Our music in the church is a bit tame for his taste, but he seemed to love the language of the Rite 1 service without any music, so convincing him of the need for a Eucharist at death would have been easy.
My connection to Jason, however, is a little deeper. I happen also to be the gentleman who was blessed to baptize Jason, during one of his efforts at sobriety, into Christ’s holy Church. Given that Jason took his own life by his own hand, you might be thinking that God withheld the courage to will and to persevere and the gift of joy and wonder in all His works for which we pray in our tradition when one is baptized into God’s family. you might think that the “it” of baptism, whatever we say it is, did not “take.” I have heard this afternoon in a couple discussion already that such has been the response of the “good Christians,” be they pastors or laity in your lives. For those responses, I am sorry, but it is also part of the reason that I am probably here.
Jason, as all of you gathered here know, was a complicated figure. Personally, I had a hard time reconciling in my own mind some of his quirks. For example, if you ever listened to some of his music with him, you would never think he could possibly like the poetry of the King James English. Given his absolute commitment to his addictions, and his willingness to do anything and ignore everyone, some of us might have a hard time understanding why Jason would choose, choose in a moment of sobriety, to ask God to save him. For someone who seemed to be so enslaved by his passions, at times Jason could ask or answer deep questions, questions or answers whose depths might have surprised those of us gathered here in memory of his life. Jason was, to put it euphemistically, a complicated figure. In truth, Jason was like most of us gathered here, full of contradictions. So, perhaps it is fitting in some sense that his death arouse some contradictions as we begin to deal with his passing. If he was that difficult in life, it seems fitting that he should somehow complicate how we pigeonhole death.
While I share with Terri & Robert, Lynn, Elizabeth, Kevin, Sharae and Taylor, and Rhonda’s grief at his passing, I cannot help but note the time in our liturgical calendar. In the liturgical church community, we are in the beginning of Holy Week. Hard as it is for non-Christians to accept, this is the week that those of us who claim Jesus as Lord remind ourselves of, not only our need for Him to save us, but of our willing participation of His condemnation. As Episcopalians each year at this time, we remind ourselves that is was us, the supposed holy, gathered faithful people who stood in the crowd and yelled “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” We may not have been present at Pilate’s judgment when it happened, but our sins in life make us every bit the participant in that scene. It is this week in particular when we as Christians are reminded that they could not save themselves, that they were all in desperation of God’s grace.
It is a truth that Jason learned prior to and after his baptism, and it is a truth that some of you have learned since his passing. Prior to his baptism, Jason and spent some time in discussions. He wanted desperately for that water, when poured over his head in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit to be a magical wand of sorts. He wanted desperately to believe that all of one’s problems go away when one is baptized into the family. I remember well his sense of disappointment when I told them that it often did not work that way. If anything, I warned him, the attacks and pressures get even worse, as His enemy delights in our failures. So many people represent that adoption equals no more financial worries, no more disease worries, no more relationship problems, no more addictions, no more sins. When such proves not to be the case, one can easily lose heart and, more importantly, faith. Baptism, I reminded Jason, was simply God’s promise that He would redeem everything in his life. Everything. All the bad choices, all the sins, all the hurts, all the anguish--Christ would redeem. It would not happen as quickly as Jason would want. It would likely not happen the way the he or I would want or expect. But I assured him that it would happen.
No doubt some of you gathered here have heard versions of that lie that Jason believed before he came into my office that day. How many of you have heard “If he really believed, he would have never fallen back into the addictions.” “If he really called Jesus Lord, he would never have killed himself and earned himself a spot in hell.” Some of you gathered here may even be telling yourself that “if only you would have’s” he would still be alive. Make no mistake, nobody here was responsible for his death. Jason would be the last to stand among us and condemn us. Jason would acknowledge that some of you had every right to be angry with him for his failures or poor choices. Jason would acknowledge that many of you invested far more in him than you ever got out of him. He readily acknowledged the hurt he caused his daughter, his mother, and Rhonda. He wanted nothing more than to cast off these demons and make each of you proud of him. And today, were he clean and sober, he would likely recognize that what he thought was a good solution was horribly unfair to all of you. So many of us gathered here still a journey with him to which we could look forward. So many of us had hopes and prayers that Jason would grow into the potential man that we saw in those moments of sobriety and clarity.
It is for that reason that I am here, brothers and sisters. It was in one of those moments, full of clarity and sobriety and determination, that Jason asked me to baptize him. He asked that the effect of God’s grace would be instantaneous and miraculous, but he knew that there might still be miles more to bear his crosses. And so He asked God to save him.
That we are here might causes scoffers to believe that God lost, but none of us can say that with any certainty. Terri, Elizabeth, Rhonda, Sharae, Taylor, his friends from NarcAnon, those not present with us such as Kevin -- You bear no guilt in his death. He loved you all or admired you all deeply. If anything, Jason blamed himself for not proving worthy of you, of your love, of your friendship, or of your support. Hear me again, you bear no guilt in his death.
For those who worry about his eternity, don’t. Truthfully, it is none of your business. But none of us, not a single one of us gathered here or anywhere else in this world is able with certainty to tell you Jason’s fate. I mentioned that Holy Week is that time in the liturgical church year when we remind ourselves that every one of us stood before the throne of God deserving of His wrath, undeserving beneficiaries of His grace. Christ’s promise is that He will not lose any given to Him by the Father. And so Jason’s eternal fate depends upon those arms that stretched out themselves in love on the hard wood of the cross to redeem men, women, and children like me, like you, and like Jason. Jason claimed that offer of salvation in a moment of sobriety, and so his eternal future, like all of ours, is dependent upon that fully divine fully human Son whom God sent in fulfillment of His promise to redeem all His people. Jason’s eternal resting place, like ours, is dependent upon Christ who died for him. From a human perspective, we can note that Jason took part in tons of support meetings, he availed himself of mental health expertise, I can’t recall the number of times he went through medical detox in the 6+ years I have known him, and he even tried the faith-based cure. From our perspective, he struggled. From our perspective, he strained agonizingly to get those demons out of his life. The mercy and love of our Lord and the effort that Jason put forth will have to do for now. Our Lord knew Jason’s heart. I am content to leave that decision in His loving, saving hands.
Those struggling sincerely with all this might well ask, “Where is the redemption? How can God redeem Jason if he is already dead?” The simply answer I have for you is, of course, wrapped tightly in the Empty Tomb we celebrate Sunday. Our Lord, Jason’s Lord, has power even over death. If in His grace and mercy He acknowledges Jason as a sinner of His own redeeming, then Jason stands before Him free of the hurt and pain and addictions of this life already! And those of us who share Christ as Lord know that we will one day also stand face to face with our Lord and can hope to see a resurrected Jason there to welcome us into that new life. But the redemption may go even further than that. Perhaps someone here or in his support group struggles with the same demons and the same temptations. Maybe Jason’s end will cause them to fight all the harder for life. Perhaps some of us here have struggled with the temptation to kill ourselves to eliminate the pain and disappointment. Seeing the hurt and pain that is left in its wake may well be the memory that causes those that struggle to choose life and help, no matter the darkness. And maybe, just maybe if I have lived into the authority given me by our Lord and Savior to be a herald of God’s mercy and God’s grace in Christ Jesus, if I have been given the grace to comfort His people in the midst of terrible suffering, those of you who have been wounded by Christians who forget all to often that He came not to condemn but to save, not to pat the backs of the righteous but to heal the sick, that the same offer made to Jason is made to you. Perhaps you have turned a deaf ear and blind eye to that offer of love. But now, when faced with the death of a loved one, you are considering your own mortality. Why not, this week when all Christians are called to remind themselves of their need for God’s grace, find your way to a gathering of His people, and hear again or for the very first time the promises that He offers? Trust me, this is a week for a number of new faces in churches, so you will not stand out. Like many others there this week, you may even be unsure what it is you are seeking when you first enter those doors.
Terri, Lynn, Elizabeth, Kevin, Sharae, Taylor, Rhonda, and all those in mourning today: Know our Lord shares your grief as surely as He did when Lazarus died. This, all this hurt, this pain, this senseless death was not part of His plan. God did not need another angel. Our Lord wants only good things for all His children, so please, please try and tune out those idiots who will tell you such things. I pray that God’s grace surrounds you and causes you not to hear, or better still for them not to say, such injuring words that misrepresent our Lord. And I pray, in the days, weeks, and months ahead, that you will experience the consolation of His love and see with your own eyes and hear with your own ears and understand in your own heart the redemption that He promises to all His children.