At the Solemn Mass of the Resurrection for Anthony Wentworth Morss
The Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels: Michaelmas
Saturday, 29 September 2018
Lamentations 3:22-26, 31-33
“Sure and certain hope in the resurrection” is a phrase we hear throughout the liturgy of the Church, especially the burial rites. It rolls off the tongue in a way that the English of the Prayer Book is especially good at. It is so elegant, in fact, that it is easy to forget what “sure and certain hope in the resurrection” actually looks like, in real life, in a fully fleshed out person. Today, all we have to do is remember Tony in action, in whatever he did, to see an example of the “sure and certain hope of the resurrection” alive in the world. Indeed, I do not think that in all my life I have ever met someone so confident in his faith, so at ease and prepared for the new Jerusalem.
Tony could indeed from this side see “the dwelling of God” with humanity, could envision and expect that moment when God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning or crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” As in every moment of his life, even on his death bed Tony, sat in full expectation of such a life with God, a resurrection life, and he was ready and he was happy. And it was a marvel to behold.
Indeed, many out there in the “religious” world of this new millennium who claim the faith of Christ, claim to believe, to have faith, and make a show of it, a business of it. They go about, as Matthew’s gospel puts it, so that “their fasting may be seen by men.” Not Tony. His faith was not for show or to impress others with its depth or rigour. It was something to infuse his life with meaning, to energise him to create art, his music, and to bring people together in the doing. The question we ask ourselves when remembering a life is where and how the Resurrection manifested in the life someone lived. Tony’s whole life was lived in the immanent expectation of the Resurrection to eternal life. Tony’s life, even unto the moment of his death, was about the resurrection, manifesting forth the love of God into this time and into this place, doing it through sharing, deeply engaging in ideas and music, through connecting with others.
Tony, like Martha in today’s Gospel, was also always up for a discussion, never taking matters unquestioningly, or at face value. In this story we just heard, we see Martha willing to confront Jesus, to chastise him for his slowness in coming. She does not hesitate to engage with Jesus and, in fact, to hold him to account. At the same time, she shows an unwavering faith. Her rebuke of Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” is the voice of someone unafraid to express her feelings, unafraid to make herself vulnerable. Her lack of fear is rooted in her confidence in Jesus and in her loving relationship with him, in the hope of the resurrection. For these are not the words of one who stands in opposition to Jesus’ work, like the Pharisees and the Scribes, but of one so close to Jesus, so close to God, that she opens herself up in her grief and says exactly what is on her mind. Only someone so secure in her faith, someone so confident in the Good News of the Resurrection at the Last Day, would be able to make this statement.
Jesus’ response to Martha is one of love and reassurance, as it is to us, to Tony, “Your brother will rise again” [and] Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Martha believes in the resurrection, knows that God will defeat death in the end, but Jesus makes it clear that we are not simply talking about the end times. He makes the bold claim that he is talking about the presence of the resurrection in the here and now, in this moment, in her encounter with him, in our encounter with him. “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” [And] she said to him, “Yes, Lord I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.”
Tony’s faith, like Martha’s, was active and engaged, and in selecting this exchange between Martha and Jesus for his funeral mass, Tony shares with us still a call to engagement with our faith, conversation and debate with Jesus, lived in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection. Jesus calls us to understand that the “sure and certain hope in the Resurrection” is not something that can wait, not something that will happen in the distant future, but that Jesus defeats death here, now. We are called to live in the immanent expectation of Life, that the Kingdom of God is enfolding even now, around us and while we may wait still some time to see a resurrection like Lazarus’, nevertheless we are all witnesses of the defeat of death. I saw it whenever I spoke with Tony about his death. I saw it when he spoke, even on our last visit at the hospital, of his readiness to enter into eternal life with God after a long life engaged with love and resurrection in the here and now. Let us be strengthened in our faith, our relationship with God in Christ, by the witness of our friend, who met his death in the sure and certain hope in the resurrection, of life eternal with God, loved, held, remembered, and risen.
Andrew Charles Blume
New York City
Feria, 28 September 2018
© 2018 Andrew Charles Blume