Funeral Homily

Revelation 21:2-7

The Grand Production

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The Grand Production

Revelation 21:2-7

By The Rev. Charles Hoffacker

This sermon was preached at the funeral of Harrison Young, an actor known especially for playing Ryan as an old man in the movie Saving Private Ryan.

After many scenes, the play reaches its conclusion.  An actor makes his exit, leaving the stage empty.  The curtain comes down.  It appears that everything is over.

This is how it happens in the theatre at the end of the show.  This is also how it looks at the end of a life.  A story completed, very much enjoyed, but now it is past.  Or so it seems.

Christian faith sees it differently.  The life we live here possesses eternal significance, yet it is the dress rehearsal, preparation for a production far more splendid.

So, after many scenes, the play of our life here reaches its conclusion.  An actor makes his exit, leaving the stage empty.  The curtain comes down.  It appears that everything is over.

But the curtain will rise again.  The real show time awaits us.

Why do Christians believe this?  Because they have seen it.  What constitutes the Christian community is the heritage of sharing witness to Jesus Christ alive again after his death on the cross, after his burial in the tomb.  This is the witness of the apostles, the faith and hope of the church.

Christians do not view the resurrection of Jesus as an isolated event, some freak occurrence that took place two thousand years ago, no more than you and I treat the first flower of spring as an isolated event, but rather as a promise that winter is over and the world will be reborn.

Christians see death, not as an end, a final curtain, but as an end to the dress rehearsal, pointing ahead to the grand production itself.  Christians view this life with its tragedy, its comedy, and recognize it has eternal significance.  Yet they see past it as well, thanks to Easter, and so regarding this life they borrow a phrase from Jimmy Durante and say with a smile, “You ain’t see nothin’ yet!”

When was Dick signed up to play his unique role in the grand production?  It happened long years ago at his baptism.  It was then that he became a member of the cast.

The rehearsal was long, and it was challenging.  Dick learned his part well.  He trod the boards of this world in a way that brought joy to many hearts, including people here today.

The comic was where he felt at home, so I am led to believe.  To be adept at the comic is something sublime.  It is good preparation, too, because the play we rehearse here, and whose curtain has risen for Dick, is itself a comedy; unlike so many stories, it has a happy ending, with much delight along the way.

The curtain went down for Dick last Sunday, only to rise again in a theatre far grander than this world.  The cost of this spectacular performance where he now plays his part is an immense cost: the life and death, the breath and blood of the Son of God himself.  For the story line is not comedy alone; it is also romance, a love story, a father’s heart broken many times for each and every one of his children.

Yet all comes right in the end.  There is no sadness on that stage, and as the priest/poet John Donne said, “All the way to heaven is heaven.” [John Moses, ed., One Equall Light: An Anthology of the Writings of John Donne (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), p. 299.]  Each of us here is an actor learning a part, and when the curtain goes down at last on this long dress rehearsal, it will rise for us again to mark the start of the grand production.

We have for the moment only brief blurbs about that play; we have not seen it.  But according to one reliable source, the central character, seated on a throne, at one moment shouts out, “Behold, I am making all things new.” [Revelation 21:5.]

This same one raised Jesus from the dead, and that was only the start of new things.  He is making all things new, welcoming Harrison Richard Young and you and me to life eternal, to theatre spectacular, so that we may take our parts in a comedy, a love story, in which everyone will be a star.

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 busy clergy prepare funeral homilies that are faithful, pastoral, and personal.