Isaiah 61:1-3

Work and Love

A funeral homily for a man whose life was characterized by work and love

The Rev. Charles Hoffacker

The word “unexpectedly” has had to bear a heavy burden among us these last four days. Ray’s passing from us was, as we say, “unexpected.” It is for us a shock, a stab in the heart, an emptiness and a grief.

Many have shown their support through many kind actions these last four days. Those closest to Ray have been surrounded by love and concern. We need to maintain that support during the time to come. A loss like this can occur unexpectedly, suddenly. One does not get over it so much as learn to live with it, and for that to happen, time and support are required.

Looking back on the life Ray Brennan lived among us, I see two great themes that stand out. These are themes common to all our lives, yet Ray expressed them in his own unique, unforgettable way. The strokes with which he painted the picture of his life were bold and clear.

These themes I have in mind are work and love. Much of our human dignity arises from the capacity each of us has to love other people and to do useful work in this world. In each of us, this wonderful capacity to work and to love is tragically marred because we are fallen creatures in a fallen world, and sometimes we make wrong choices. Yet there is much grace that shines forth, evidence that God is active here in the lives we live.

Two hymns we sang earlier in this service recognized Ray as a worker in this world.

The first was “Eternal Father, strong to save,” a favorite of Navy personnel and veterans. As a young man, Ray served in the Navy in two very different corners of the world: Vietnam and Maine. He was a Seabee. The Seabees take their name from the initials C and B, which stand for “construction battalion.” The Seabees are builders and workers. This was Ray’s primary occupation in the service of his country.

We also sang “Jesus, thou divine Companion” in recognition of the thirty-six years that Ray worked at Mueller Brass here in this city. This hymn reminds us of something we sometimes forget: that Jesus learned a trade from Joseph, that our Savior was a carpenter, a builder, or as we might say today, he was “in construction.” He knew well what it was to put in a good day’s work. There was something in common between his experience as a carpenter of Nazareth and Ray’s experience as an industrial worker in Port Huron.

Work was one great theme in Ray’s life, and another was love. Like all of us, Ray was put into this world in large part to learn to love and to experience love. Some of us, when we reach our fifties, do not grow further in this area. Ray was a praiseworthy exception. At that point in life, he accepted his opportunity to grow further in love, to learn from those around him, and to enter more deeply into this greatest of life’s mysteries.

First in Ray’s love was his devoted wife Linda and their beloved daughters Janet and Amy. Any of us who know these people, who have been in their home, recognize that this is a close and solid family, where love is expressed through daily choices and mutual concern. Ray also expanded his circle of love to include Judy and Sandy as daughters with a place in his home. And so the lives of all members of this family were enriched.

Work and love. It sounds so simple, so obvious. Yet to live a life where these are the great themes means to realize much of what each of us is placed here to do. In addition, it means avoiding the mistaken notions which suggest that life amounts to possessions or distinctions, or outdoing other people,. Ray Brennan appeared content with work and love. Like any of us, his aim was not perfect, but he chose the right target.

In the Episcopal Church, we treat a funeral as an Easter service. The Prayer Book puts it this way: “The liturgy for the dead is an Easter liturgy. It finds all its meaning in the resurrection. Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we too shall be raised.” [The Book of Common Prayer (New York: Church Hymnal Corporation, 1979), p. 507.] Yet this funeral takes place here in Holy Week, when our eyes are on the suffering Christ, his cross, and his death.

Holy Week and Easter. The struggle and the triumph. Today the two coincide, reminding us that on a deeper level they coincide as well. There’s triumph in the struggle, and the struggle bears fruit in the triumph.

This is true in the great story of Jesus. And it is true in the personal story of each Christian. It is true in the story of Ray Brennan. There’s triumph in the struggle. Grace glimmers here in this life. The struggle bears fruit in the triumph. We die in Christ to be raised with him.

Love abides, love continues, but we leave behind our work. Here we pray that we may always increase in love. We pray as well that we may come to the eternal sabbath. In the words of the hymn,

“Jesus, thou divine Companion,
help us all to work our best;
bless us in our daily labor,
lead us to our Sabbath rest.”

[“Jesus, thou divine Companion,” hymn 586, stanza 3 in The Hymnal 1982 (New York: Church Hymnal Corporation, 1985).]

There our occupation will be different from what keeps us busy here. There, in the words of St. Augustine, “We shall rest and we shall see; we shall see and we shall love; we shall love and we shall praise. Behold what shall be in the end and shall not end.” [The City of God, book 22, chapter 30.]

Christ welcomes Ray to an eternity where his love may increase and grow in response to the resplendent vision of God.

Christ invites Ray to rest from labor, to taste the joys of the eternal sabbath, the endless Easter.

There, by grace, Ray’s work will give way to sabbath celebration, and his love will find fulfillment in the light of the God whose other name is Love.

To that same glory Christ calls every one of us.

  • Copyright 2008, Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission. Fr. Hoffacker is the author of A Matter of Life and Death: Preaching at Funerals (Cowley Publications), a book devoted to helping clergy prepare funeral homilies that are faithful, pastoral, and personal.