Thoughts for the Memorial Service on July 7, 2018 for longtime parishioner Jackie Albert, who served on the altar guild at Holy Trinity for over 60 years. The Gospel is John 14:1-6.
The Gospel we have just read is from the New Revised Standard Version, an update of an update of the King James Bible. In the King James Bible, verse 2 is famously phrased “In my father’s house there are many mansions …”
If that is the case, I imagine Jackie approaching heaven, being pointed to the mansions and saying something like, “Don’t you have anything smaller?”
Jackie was a small lady. And in some ways, Jackie lived what might be regarded as a “small” life. But that would be misleading. In fact, Jackie was always moving with a crowd.
In this life, she moved with a whole lot of people. She wouldn’t go far without a former student coming up to her and saying hello. Parents of former students would stop her in the street to thank her. And even if Jackie were walking down the street alone, she carried with her the friends and family from the Yorkville neighborhood and beyond. In her prayers, she carried even more people with her—so many that if we thought about it, it would seem amazing for such a small person to hold such weight. Except, she held on to us all very lightly. She held other people—their stories, their fears, their worries, their joys, their dreams—but she held us all in God’s presence, and she knew that God always does the heavy lifting.
For some years now, Jackie not only moved with a crowd from the past, but also with a crowd in the future—those so many of her friends who died to this world but have risen to new life. When I met Jackie, about two and a half years ago, I was always confused when she talked about her friends, the ladies from church, many of whom attended the 8 AM worship service and some of who worked with her on altar guild. I knew that her husband Jimmy had died years ago, but still, he was very much a part of her stories. And when Jackie spoke of Frances, Lillian, Cecilia, or Elsie, I had to think for a minute whether the person were living or dead.
Christians believe in the Communion of Saints, and we understand this Communion to be a living community of all those who have died and risen again to new life in Christ.
As Walt Whitman puts it so beautifully,
They are alive and well somewhere,
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceas’d the moment life appear’d.
All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier. (Song of Myself)
Many of our local saints are gathered especially in that corner of the church, the Columbarium, where the ashes of the beloved dead are interred. Some might find our life with the dead-who-are-alive-again a little disrespectful. We usually keep a piano over there, and on many Sunday mornings, the choir sits over there—from that part of the church come some of the most beautiful sounds known in Christianity—from chant to motets, to anthems to hymns, and everything in-between. We serenade our saints, and perhaps a few of them sing along.
On Sunday evenings when we have our Community Eucharist up here, around the altar, our fellowship time, our coffee time, is spent over here. We set up a table, wheel in the coffee, and enjoy each other—all in the presence of our saints.
Four mornings a week, we offer Morning Prayer in the Memorial Chapel and then, as with every Sunday and Wednesday, as people walk by the Columbarium, we pay our respects. We remember. We say hello. We update and ask for advice. We give thanks and we pray.
In just a few minutes, we will inter earthly remains of Jackie Albert. We will miss her accessibility and warmth, her gently correcting us when we set up for worship, and her gracefully presiding over every Sunday morning’s “Third Sacrament” (after Baptism and Eucharist, there was always Breakfast.)
But she is still close by. She is fully part of the Communion of Saints now—praying for us, as always. Encouraging us, as always. And loving us, as always.
Let us pray.
O God, the King of saints, we praise and glorify your holy Name for all your servants who have finished their course in your faith and fear: for the blessed Virgin Mary; for the holy matriarchs, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs; and for all your other righteous servants, known to us and unknown; and we pray that, encouraged by their examples, aided by their prayers, and strengthened by their fellowship, we also may be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; through the merits of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.