Delivered on New Member Sunday, April 24, 2016
Scriptures: Revelation 21:1-6
John 13: 31-35
We are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.
Electric word, life, it means forever and that’s a mighty long time.
Prince, may he rest in peace and rise in power, sums up why someone would want to join an ancient and complex and imperfect institution like the church in one sentence: to get through this thing called life. It’s not an easy thing to do, as so many of us know. So many of us came through these doors because we are grieving, or afraid, or depressed, or alone, or because this is our last attempt trying out a church to see if it will be different this time, or even our last attempt trying out this thing called life.
We need one another, but it takes bravery to admit that.
My friend, Paul, sat on our panel on Wednesday night at Eat, Pray, Learn to tell his story growing up gay and Southern Baptist. He summed up in one word why institutions like the church still matter.
His word was:
Unfortunately, like my friend, Paul, so many people learn the importance of this word by discovering, over and over again, the places where they don’t belong.
And so on this new member Sunday we celebrate today those of you who know deep in your bones that you belong here. We celebrate that you were brave enough to walk through those doors; to give the church one more chance. We celebrate that on some level you believe that a different world is possible; that you’ve decided to try and get through this thing called life with us. The ceremony we had today only makes “official” what’s already true. You belong here. You—each of you—make us a better church, and a better people. May we build a church worthy of your promise.
Congregation, can I get an amen?
We all belong here, in this particular and sometimes peculiar little branch of God’s family tree. Jesus, in our scripture today, sums up what it looks and feels like to belong in one loaded and beautiful word:
He says, “everyone will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Love is a squishy word. It means so many things, sometimes it’s hard to know what we mean when we say it. When Jesus says to his disciples: “love one another as I have loved you,” he’s talking about the kind of love that comes from the Greek word “agape.” According to the dictionary, Agape is the highest form of love, charity; the love of God for humankind and of humankind for God." Not to be confused with "philēo" - brotherly love , or eros, erotic love, agápē embraces a universal, unconditional love that transcends that and serves regardless of circumstances.
So when we talk about this particular form of Love that Jesus is talking about--agape--it’s not, “OMG, I totally agape the peanut butter chocolate ice cream at Rota Springs.” Or, “you guys, I met this adorable accountant on match.com who is obsessed with Star Wars and I think I’m in agape.” Or “Agape comedy movies starring Sandra Bullock are my favorite.”
Agape love is how we show care and hospitality toward the people we encounter no matter who they are, simply because we are each and all universally and unconditionally loved by a God who transcends our human inability to love without condition.
In other words, agape love means showing care whether we want to or not--even to those we find unlovable, simply because we are each and all loved by God.
Jesus gives us an object lesson in agape love. In the Gospel of John that we read today, in the paragraphs before, Jesus washes the feet of the disciples. Literally, not metaphorically, washes their feet.
Jesus, who loves our bodies, gets down on the dirt floor and washes the filthy stinkin’ dusty calloused feet of his disciples. He shows them that love looks like lowering yourself to the ground to tenderly serve your neighbor regardless of your status or theirs’.
This tender washing requires the recipient’s cooperation. And I don’t know about you all, but I have a complex about my feet. They are huge (size 12) and flat, and have a weird pinky toe, and as you know, they are not perfectly polished and pedicured, and I am embarrassed of them, and it’s vulnerable letting someone else touch them.
Well, Jesus, who calls us to discomfort in service of God, shows us that agape also entails accepting the care of others--exposing your ugliest parts, despite your discomfort. That’s love in the Jesus definition.
You’ll notice nothing in the act of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet suggests we try to judge whether someone is worthy of our love before serving them.
You’ll notice nothing in this act suggests some of us are too good to kneel at someone’s feet, and that some of us are too bad to be cared for like that.
We do not judge who is worthy of God’s love. That’s definitely not our job. That’s above our pay grade.
“When we judge people,” Mother Teresa says, “we have no time to love them.”
Judgment communicates a sense that there are conditions on God’s love, and that we can be deemed worthy or unworthy of it. The practice of agape Jesus commands us to is the communication of God’s unconditional love. The practice of agape communicates belonging in God’s family.
On Wednesday night, around 70 people from First Church and all over our little community came to our parish hall to hear the stories of some of our church members and friends who are gay, lesbian, transgendered, and Christian. Raise your hand if you were there. It was profound because in the storied past, this congregation has created barriers to this kind of belonging, and they are starting to crumble away one conversation at a time. There was much laughter, and many tears. There was a standing ovation at the end. There was joy.
My dear friend Paul said he felt tearful just walking into our church hall, because it reminded him of the overwhelming feeling of belonging he experienced at his own Wednesday supper nights at church as a child. Paul told his story of growing up in Georgia as a Southern Baptist. He told us that he and his family went to church every night and twice on Sundays. Whenever the doors of the church were open and the lights were on, Paul was there. He recalled to us the experience of getting older, and discovering he was gay. And he recalled to us being told in no uncertain terms that in order to continue to belong, he would have to change who he was. And he tried as hard as he could, going to so-called ex-gay ministries for months at a time, being sprinkled with holy water and oil, and prayed over—an attempt to exorcise his demons. He earnestly tried, for fear he would be cast out of God’s favor. It didn’t work. He was still gay. He sank into a deep depression. He finally left the Christian Church altogether, came out, and created a “chosen family” within the gay community where he could have the sense of belonging he once had in church.
We heard the story of our beloved new member Erin, bullied for being a lesbian in a women’s Catholic college before she even knew she was a lesbian, tortured by her fellow field hockey players, and told by the nuns in charge that they had no policies in place to stop her tormenters. She founded a group on campus for LGBTQ folks, and the college refused to recognize the group, saying they didn’t belong at a Catholic College. She found a home again as an adult in a UU church in Northampton, where she could slap her rainbow bumper stickers on her car and be celebrated for who she was. And Erin, too, has found a home here at First Church.
We heard the story of our beloved new member Sam, who tried to hide that he was gay as an evangelical Christian and pastoral psychotherapist, husband and father. We heard about how he finally felt forced to make a choice between his family, his work, his church, and the great exhilarating unknown of being honest about who he was. It was a disorienting and sometimes less than celebratory journey. He found belonging in the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus and the Arlington Street Church in Boston, and found himself in the process. And today he celebrates his belonging here, among us.
We heard the story of Kathie who works for the MA conference of the United Church of Christ, after many years as a public school teacher. She bitterly regrets never coming out to her mother before her mother died, and her struggle to forgive herself because of it. Kathie found belonging in working with and for the United Church of Christ’s open and affirming ministries, to give back to the church that accepted and loved her into wholeness.
We heard the story of Dani, born the son (now daughter) of two UCC pastors. She lost her relationship with her pastor brothers after coming out as transgendered. She managed to stay together with her spouse of 28 years despite her transition from female to male, is understood and affirmed by her two young adult sons, and manages to boldly claim who she is despite sideways looks of disgust. She found belonging in God’s everlasting love; in whose image she was made.
During the Q&A, one of the audience members asked the panelists who have been in both same-sex and heterosexual relationships, “Does the love feel different?”
I loved Sam’s answer. “Well, the plumbing is different,” he said, “but the love is the same. Love is always the same. Intimacy, mutual support, caring, belonging.”
Imagine if the Church became a place where love was always the same. Where there was love for all people without conditions because God is Love. Imagine if we all could be who God made us to be without having to hide, or change, or live in terror. Just imagine. Barriers to belonging torn down, wiped away. A glimpse of the new heaven and the new earth. “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 4he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”
Beloved: welcome to First Church, where we are gathered in the spirit of Jesus, committed to creating heaven on earth. Welcome to all of who you are. We know that at times the church has rejected difference and denied God’s promises for itself and for others which is why we say WITHOUT RESERVATION that you are welcome here just as God welcomes you, as a beloved child.
A Sermon by Reverend Robin Bartlett
Preached at First Church in Sterling, MA
April 17, 2016
Scripture: John 10: 22-30
Listen to the sermon here.
OK, so we have this auction every year to raise money for the church called Treasures of the Community Auction. And I went for the first time last year as your new minister. I wanted to contribute something to it, but I really don’t have any artistic talent to speak of—not of the tangible sort, anyway. And I don’t have a time share in the Caribbean or anything. So I decided against my better judgment that I would contribute a sermon. Yes, that’s right, I auctioned off a sermon topic to a room full of people drinking cocktails in a country club and bidding on Red Sox tickets.
To my dismay, an entire table, who were a little drunk in the spirit, bid on this item. And the personnel at the table included Davises and Guilds and Sabourins. The Davis family actually had the nerve to send their scrubbed, sweet, and totally earnest young adult son, Ben, over to my table to give me their first suggestion for topics, which was too un-toward to mention in a family-friendly service. It will have to be a topic for another day. To my further dismay, the Davises then gave up the sermon topic to Jon Guild, which is rarely a good idea. For those of you who don’t know Jon Guild, you will soon see why. What’s even more ridiculous about this situation is that Jon Guild is in like Florida right now, which I totally think was on purpose.
Anyway, Jon gave me not one, but a whole list of sermon topics to choose from. I only chose one, but I would be remiss if I didn’t share with you the rejects, and my response:
Self-Reflection: Is it moral to sell a sermon topic? (Good question)
A 5-Minute Sermon: The Challenge (you wish)
Lions and tigers and beer, oh my: Thinking about the lesser-known Capital Campaign project to install a keg refrigerator in the kitchen. (First we need to get the diaconate to agree to have wine at communion. Baby steps)
The Banana Splits vs. The Teletubbies: We know who would win that fight. (What.)
God is Still Singing: Hearing faith loud and clear in contemporary music. (Field trip to Hope Chapel!)
Feel good, you're an angel. But so was Satan. (ummmm….I think that was a song by Madonna)
Hash tag #ChurchSoWhite: Going outside of our comfort zone (e.g., race, religion, sexual identity, economic status). (I preach that every week, Jon. People are starting to complain.)
Ye Olde Church Service: Reliving how church was conducted when the First Church began in the late 1700s. (Booooring)
The Pastoral Search Committee: Is it time to get the band back together? (are you trying to tell me something?)
Here’s the one I chose, which was last on the list:
I'll Be Back: What if God sent a *second* son to visit us, and he's now 32 years old. Would you believe he was a child of God? If he sent a daughter, would you believe she was a child of God?
Please won’t you pray with me.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts together be acceptable unto you o God, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
What a perfect day to talk about the second coming of Christ, in the midst of the Easter season, when we boldly proclaim the mystery of the Christian faith with a shiver and audacious hope: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. And this is Good Shepherd Sunday in the Christian calendar, the Sunday when we listen for the voice of the Good Shepherd among so many who try to herd us the wrong way.
Therefore, what a great question Jon Guild asks of us, “would you believe?” It echoes Jesus in our passage from John today when asked to say definitively if he is the Messiah or not, “I have told you but you do not believe.” My sheep know my voice. My sheep hear my voice.”
Jesus has a lot of confidence in our abilities.
Do you remember that song by Joan Armetraden from the ‘90s? What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us… Just a stranger on the bus trying to make his way home…”
Would we believe, Jon asks. Would we recognize God when we saw her? Or would we refuse to offer her a seat, and push past her to get to our stop.
In our scripture from the Gospel of John, we read from frustrated Jews, “if you are the Messiah, how long will you keep us in suspense? Tell us plainly!”
Jesus was not known for telling people anything quickly or plainly. He told stories in parables, he answered questions with signs and miracles. He also asked them to believe, which as you know, is awfully hard to do without proof or guarantee.
“I have told you, and you did not believe,” he said.
Jesus didn’t want to tell us plainly because he desired for us to believe—to give our heart to something that seemed implausible or even crazy. After all, if his followers didn’t believe him the first time, it is unlikely we will believe he is who he says he is when he comes back. Maybe he wanted us to practice looking for him in everyone, maybe he wanted us to practice listening for his voice everywhere we went; maybe he expected us to treat everyone we encounter as though they may be the second coming.
In the Gospel of Matthew, when Jesus is talking about separating the “sheep from the goats,” he says:
35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
And the righteous are confused since they don’t remember doing any of that, and so they ask him
“Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?”
And he says to them:
“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,* you did it to me.”
Look around! Our shepherd could be found in any one of the people in this room; our shepherd’s voice could be speaking out from any one of these member’s of God’s family. And more importantly, our shepherd could be found in the stranger, the prisoner, the poor, the child. What you do to the the least of these, you do to me.
I wrote a letter to Kaylee Roxanne, imagining that she may be the second coming of the Messiah, which means Messenger of God. She is a tiny little human, the smallest one in this room. I want you to close your eyes if you want to, and imagine that this letter is to you, too. Belief, Sharon Salzburg says, means to “give your heart to” something. For a moment, believe.
Today is your baptism day, and you are a messenger of God, so I want to write you a letter. It feels strange writing a message to a messenger. It seems to me that I should listen rather than talk. We talk far too much to God, when we really should be listening.
I went to a conference this week, and a man quoted someone who said that “Jesus Christ is God’s definitive ‘yes.’” I love that. I want you to know that you, too, are God’s definitive ‘yes.’ You are God’s daughter, the beloved, in whom God is well pleased. God says ‘yes’ to you, Kaylee.
I don’t know you that well. I only met you twice, once when you came to my office with your sweet parents, and today when I baptized you with the name Beloved. I know you to be beautiful and squishy as babies are, with clear eyes, and a joyful toothless smile. Your parents wrote a letter for you today on your baptism day, saying that they want you to accept God into your life, and that they hope that you will embrace Christianity to help you become the best person you can be. They want Christianity to help implement the morals and values they find to be necessary. Your parents want you to continue to be joyful and curious, and they ask that God will bring you peace and happiness in this journey of life.
I hope something different for you, and for us. I hope we accept the God spark that’s in you; the particular way that Christ manifests in you. I hope not so much that you will embrace Christianity, but that Christendom will embrace you so that we can become the best people we can be. You, Kaylee Roxanne, are God’s messenger, and so you have the power to make us better people.
You see, if we listen more and talk less, you have the ability to inspire us to be joyful and curious; you have the power to show us the way to peace. I hope that we will learn from you morals and values—that witnessing your beauty and your vulnerability will inspire us to be better—so that we might build a world worthy of your promise.
I want everyone you encounter to gaze into your eyes and find the light of God contained within, not just when you are the gorgeous baby you are now—the baby that everyone is dying to touch or make laugh--but also when you are an unsure teenager attempting figure out who you are in a world that expects both conformity and empty consumerism, or when you are a shattered middle aged woman, just trying to find her way home after the death of a dream, or when you are a wise elder smiling at the ways in which life didn’t turn out as expected at all.
I want more for you than peace and happiness. I want to hear your call for us to be better. And so I wish for you the courage to speak to the blessed unrest in your soul, and in the souls of the people of the world who are our brothers and sisters. I hope that we will listen to your voice of bravery and kindness the first time you speak up for those—either on the playground or in the forgotten places of the empire—who are left out of the circle of care they belong in. I hope we believe you when you say, “this is wrong,” or “they are thirsty,” or “I am hurting.” I want us to listen for God’s voice within your cries, both from your crib as a growing baby, and from the bitter tears you shed when your heart breaks for the first time. I pray that we will listen to you, and that our prayerful listening leads us closer to God’s shalom.
Kaylee, I want you to search into the eyes of God and find your reflection there. I want people to see your life as a sign and a miracle. I want you to help us bring about the kingdom of heaven here on earth, with the help of God who has chosen you to be Her messenger. Let your voice crying out in the wilderness be our reminder of the goodness of God, of still waters, of mercy.
Restore to us our souls.
I know this is a lot of pressure for a pastor to lay on a little baby, but it is the same hope Jesus wants us to have for every human we encounter—all of whom could be the second coming of Christ, which will surely be in the body of someone we least expect: like a girl, like a baby.
So my hope is in You, image of God; beloved of God; chosen one. May Love make you an inventor, and may we follow your lead to a land flowing with milk and honey.
With adoration and praise for your life’s great unfolding,
Words for the Memorial Service for Jeffrey Cranson, who left this earth too soon
Delivered April 2, 2016
by the Reverend Robin Bartlett at First Church in Sterling, MA
Good morning, beloved. Welcome to First Church in Sterling, which is made sacred in this season of loss with the spirit of love and friendship that you bring as you gather to remember Jeffrey Cranson. You come together as family, friends, neighbors—co-creators of a community that includes those present and also family and friends who could not be here today, but who are with us in spirit.
We come together that we may honor Jeff in our hearts, and hold him dear in our memory. Gordon Atkinson says that we live in the transition between the future and the past. We are the moment that hope becomes memory. In this moment, this razor sharp moment when hope has become memory, let us tell a good and true story about who Jeffrey Cranson was. Let us give him life again in our memories of him. Let us recreate him like clay in our hands.
We do this work of memory together in a church, led by a Christian pastor with the trappings of Christianity and its symbols. We know that Jeffrey and his family weren’t big “church people.” When I first met Maureen, I liked her immediately, and told her I wanted her in my church. She said, “Robin, if I walk into that church, it will probably collapse, and I like you too much to allow that to happen.”
And yet, Jeffrey was profoundly spiritual, having relied on his “higher power”, like the lightbulb in a dark room, to guide him through recovery. Jeffrey’s Sunday morning practice was to listen to music and make pancakes with his fiancé, Alex. She joked to me that they “prayed while they did that, though.” I believed her. “Really? You prayed while you made pancakes?” I think I believed her because it was so clear to me that their five years together were as sacred as any carefully crafted prayer.
Regardless of whether Jeff identified as a Christian, it is still fitting that we honor Jeffrey here in this place, at this time of year. This is his town church, on the beloved Sterling town green, where he was in the first graduating class of the Village Green preschool down the hall. His classmates and Jeff are still friends, because Jeff collected friends and never let them go.
And this is the season of Easter in the Christian Church, which is the celebration of the resurrection of Christ. Giles Frasier says: “The resurrection is not an argument, still less a philosophical argument. That’s why rational skepticism about the empty tomb just bounces off the surface….Resurrection is who we are – our word for how we go on in the face of overwhelming odds. It’s the Christian term for defiance…This Easter rising is not just some fancy intellectual idea, it’s a form of praxis.”
We need that defiance now, as we seek to go on in the face of the overwhelming, impossible, almost drowning grief.
We need an Easter rising today in defiance, and as a form of praxis. Our practice is making memory, and making meaning of those memories. That is how we raise the dead together.
And so we raise Jeffrey up in our story and song, in our prayer, in our tears, in our laughter. We raise him from the dead by remembering him as so very much alive. That is how we defy death; with life. That is how we practice resurrection; by pointing to the ways in which Jeffrey’s love will be carried on in all of us—in our bodies, in our hearts, in our actions. That is how we turn the shadow of grief into the shimmering light of hope.
Today we must grieve Jeff’s death. But this service must also be a celebration of Jeff, and his remarkable life. Though our grief is strong and we must mourn, we will not let the shadow of death obscure the living person who touched us many times, in many ways, filling our lives with memories, meaning and love.
Jeffrey Edwin Cranson, was known by many and loved by all. An avid outdoorsman and traveler, Jeff was always one to share in a laugh, pass along a kind word, or listen with compassion. Born in Leominster, MA on March 16, 1977, Jeff graduated from Wachusett High School and then Worcester State University.
I didn’t know Jeff, but I know his family, and one need only know his family to know Jeff. He was a total Sterling guy, and yet he traveled the world. He adored the outdoors, and there was no place like home. And he made every place a home. He made friends every single corner of the world he went. He was adventurous enough to move to Alaska, and yet responsible enough to care for his grandmother until she died.
He was imperfect, but impossible to stay mad at. As his mama said, “he was a friggin’ charmer.” He was the pied piper of children; his nieces’ and nephews’ favorite person. He was the middle child sandwiched between two strong women, beloved by both his older sister, Kristen, and his younger sister Sarah. There are no words.
Jeff was a survivor. Sober for eight years, Jeff didn’t want to take the pain control drugs in the hospital for fear he would slip back into addiction. Jeff was hilarious. I read on the internet yesterday in a blog post by one of his one million friends that he had a cat named Dirty Snow Pile. OMG. That’s the best name for a cat I’ve ever heard.
Jeff was adored by his parents, Don and Maureen, who didn’t just love him, they liked him. They are good parents, real parents. They loved him from before he was born, when he was knit in his mother’s womb by a love beyond all knowing. And they adored him for the 39 precious years he inhabited this earth. He was their son, their buddy, their light, their connector. He remains knit into the fabric of their hearts. He learned from them how to be better, and they learned from him how to be better.
Jeffrey cared for people with great passion and compassion. He was always worried about other people, even, and maybe most especially when he neared death. His dad, Don, got the stomach flu while he was in the hospital, and Jeff called him at home, concerned about his dad’s illness. Kristen, Jeff’s older sister, writes in his Caring Bridge journal: “When (my mom) asked what he was doing, he said, "calling Dad to see how he is doing." It is truly amazing when you hear his voice, when he finds his words and you remember the sound of his love. My dad's phone rang in Sterling and was overjoyed to hear Jeffs' voice. Dad says he was able to understand most of the conversation and it filled him up. It's moments like this that brings back faith and hope.”
Jeff loved you all so much. The family wants you to know that. And he would cry every day—which was tremendously out of character—at the thought of seeing or talking to you for fear you would worry about him. He wanted to take care of all of you.
Kristen writes: “We are all so angry. Trying to put our anger in place to fight this unfair battle with cancer is the worst. But it's funny how Jeff will never change. Always taking care of the room. Making sure we are all okay. Holding our hands and pushing through awfulness to comfort us. We try to convince him that's not his job, but he is who he is. A couple of Jeffs' friends called the front desk to ask about visiting and the nurse asked us to take the call. My mom marched out to the desk to tell them, 'No guests. He needs his rest and all germs are our enemy right now', but Jeff motioned to Sarah to tell her, 'NO! Find out who it is first.' He loves his people and there are so many of them! He has people from every minute of his adventurous life wanting to help.”
That was Jeff. He listened, he reassured. He was gentle and non-judgmental. He made you believe you could do anything. “Everyone had a piece of his love,” his mom says. He made every person feel like they were the only one in the world—you were his best and favorite friend, his best and favorite niece, his best and favorite nephew, his best and favorite cousin, his best and favorite uncle or aunt, his best and favorite sister.
He did have a best and favorite girl, and her name is Alex. Maureen, his mama--and previously his best and favorite girl before Alex came along--said: “He lit up whenever she entered the room. It pissed me off! And it made me happy, because he really loved Alex.” Alex and Jeff didn’t just have true love, they had real love. Jeff helped Alex be better. He used to tell her that if something felt like the right thing, it was the right thing, and encourage her to take risks for her happiness. And Alex helped Jeff be better. Alex and Jeff have been engaged for years, and were finally ready to get married. Alex told Jeff he needed to complete five things to marry her, and he was proud that he had recently completed all four:
He finally finished the last step right before he got sick. Alex regrets this now because they never got to have their wedding ceremony, but he was so proud of these accomplishments. She gave him that gift. This was the real process of wed-ding; this work they did together to build a life of love and mutual support. The ceremony is only the formal icing on the cake, and who needs it.
You all, when I met with this Cranson family--this remarkable, loving and real family who I adore and I know you do, too-- Kristen and Alex told me something I think has resonant truth for all of us, particularly those of us who have known grief. They had been in Seattle, having just learned that Jeffrey was diagnosed with this ravaging disease and the prognosis was not good, and they were with him in the hospital. And they ran out of underwear. So they went out to Target to get more.
And Kristen said, “I walked into Target, and I could not believe that the world was just going on. That people were just rolling their carts around Target. That people were just buying LAMPS on a day like this. It made me so angry.”
And Alex said, “I can’t even imagine a day when I will be able to go into Target and buy a lamp.”
The world has stopped turning, and people are just going about their normal business. The morning Jeffrey died wind whipped through the trees; wind howled God’s cries of mourning. And then, just a few hours later the most beautiful sunrise. The day was kissed with spring’s new light and everyone was bustling about outside, their faces to the sun. They didn’t seem to know that the world had ended.
And make no mistake: this family’s world has ended. Kristen describes it this way: "We lost our connecting piece. The sound of love and logic from our brother, son, fiancé, best friend.... we are so sad. It's a deep, empty, dark feeling that just sits on your chest and you can't breathe."
And here’s the thing that this grieving, beloved, shaken family also knows besides the agonizing feeling of mourning: Jeffrey would have wanted their worlds to begin again. He would have wanted that empty dark feeling of grief lifted from their chests. He would have wanted all of you to practice resurrection, to roll away the stone of grief and get up out of your tombs. He would have wanted all of you to keep moving out into the day, turning your faces to the sun. He would have wanted you to care for his nieces and nephews he adored, to go back to work, to play hard, to buy lamps at Target, to love again, to love one another as fiercely as he loved all of you.
We must grieve this impossible grief: of a life that is over far too soon following a death that was painful, devastating and cruel, by a disease that steals the life of so many, indiscriminantly and with no mercy. And for those reasons, we must grieve well and long, because our tears are holy: a testament to how much Jeff was truly and deeply loved; a testament to how unfair his suffering was, and that the world now has to go on without him in it.
But we cannot let death overshadow the life of Jeffrey Cranson, and the impact he had on all of our lives. Jeffrey practiced resurrection: he died to old ways of living, only to create new ones. He made every person feel like they were Beloved, which is God’s work. He was a living example of what it means to honor the spark of the divine in each and every person he met. We must honor Jeffrey by living as he lived—with passion and compassion, kindness and humor, care for the suffering, with great adventure and great fun. We must check in on the children, call the sick, and listen to one another without judgement. We must affirm for Jeff that death does not have the final word. Life does.
Jeff knows you all don’t belong in a tomb; you belong among the living. In my heavenly imagination, Jeff is singing to you all as a gentle reminder and reassurance: “You belong among the wild flowers, you belong on a boat out at sea, sail away, kill all the hours, you belong somewhere you feel free.”
Dear God who is eternal and ever lasting Love:
In this lonely time of grief over the shocking and breath-stealing death of our friend, Jeff
We look to you for peace and assurance that the world will still spin, and we will still go on, despite the hole that the death of our son, brother, nephew, uncle, cousin, fiancé, friend, leaves in our lives and in our hearts.
Comfort those who mourn today,
Most especially the family of Jeffrey Cranson
his mother, Maureen Cranson & Robert Decker; his father, Donald Cranson & Cynthia Collard; his fiancé Alexandria N. Najduch; his sisters Sarah Marrone (Cranson) & her husband Edward; Kristen Nelson (Cranson) & her husband Erik; nieces and nephews Kylie, Sydnie, Allie, Luke and Caden; many aunts and uncles, cousins.
Help them to know that we hold each other, and that we hold each other up. When they feel like they can’t breathe, we will breathe for them. If they need help when it is time to roll away the stone of mourning, we will help them kick it away, and help them turn their faces toward the sun.
O God, who brought us to birth,
And in whose arms we die,
In our grief and sadness and shock,
Contain and comfort us;
Embrace us with your love,
Give us hope
And grace to let go into new life.
We pray all this for love’s sake.
Rev. Robin Bartlett is the Senior Pastor at the First Church in Sterling, Massachusetts. www.fcsterling.org