Friday, June 16, 2017

A Witness to the Resurrection for Ron Banks

A Witness to the Resurrection for Ron Banks
Ronnie, Josie, Mattie, and Julie Banks

On Monday, June 12, we gathered to say goodbye to our dear friend, Ronnie Banks. Ron played in the Macdonald Pipe Band with my dad for many years. I've known him so long, I don't even remember meeting him. This was the first time I officiated a funeral for someone I've known well and for a very long time.
Words of Welcome
Friends, we are gathered here today to celebrate the life and the memory of Ron Banks. In the Presbyterian tradition, we call this a service of witness to the resurrection. It is a witness to the love of God in the world, even in the midst of pain. It is a reminder that we are all part of God’s beloved family. Ron was no different; he was a son, a brother, a father, and a beloved friend to many. We are here to thank God for Ron’s life and for all the ways that we were touched by him. While we mourn the loss of his life here on Earth, we know that he has joined with the choir of saints eternal. Please hear these words from scripture and be comforted.
Scripture Readings
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

John 14:1-14
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Prayer for Comfort
The Lord be with you. And also with you.
Let us pray.
Eternal God, we acknowledge the uncertainty of our life on earth. We are given a mere handful of days, and our span of life seems nothing in your sight. All flesh is as grass; and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades; but your word will stand forever. In this is our hope, for you are our God. Even in the valley of the shadow of death, you are with us. O Lord, let us know our end and the number of our days, so that we may learn how fleeting life is. Turn your ear to our cry, and hear our prayer. Do not be silent at our tears, for we live as strangers before you, wandering pilgrims as all our ancestors were. But you are the same and your years shall have no end.

Memories of Ron

          Thank you, to all of you who shared your memories of Ronnie. I don’t ever remember calling him Ron, either. There’s an old Scottish song called “Loch Lomond.” The song begins with the words, “By yon bonnie banks and yon bonnie braes.” I remember that sometimes the other members of the Macdonald Pipe Band would refer to Ron as “Yon Ronnie Banks.”
          Our first reading, from Ecclesiastes, reminds us why we’re here today: we are here to mourn the passing of Ron Banks; we are also here to celebrate Ronnie’s life and his presence in our lives. When I sat down with Josie, Mattie, and Julie last week, they said they wanted this to be a celebration; they wanted laughter and joy; but that’s not easy. Not for me. Ronnie was my friend, too, and he was like family.
          As we talked that day, two themes emerged from our conversation: love and music. I heard, over and over again, how much love he had for Josie and Mattie. I heard how Dan had taken Ron in, after Ron’s injury. Julie told me about the healing in their relationship. Ronnie was full of love for his family—and also for his friends. Of course, many of those friends came from music.
          I know Ronnie because of music. I don’t even remember when I met him. He was a teenager, playing in the Macdonald Pipe Band and I was the son of one of the other pipers—I was one of many band kids that followed them around to gigs and gatherings. It seemed there was always a band party or a band picnic. Ronnie was always there. And even after he stopped playing in the band, Ron and my dad still remained close friends. They were always at my dad’s forge, blacksmithing. That’s a testament to the relationships that were formed in that band. That came from love of music and love for one another. Lives were changed because of those relationships. I’m here today because those relationships didn’t end when Ron stopped playing in the Macdonald Pipe Band.
          But last week, Ron died; our relationships with him were suspended. We won’t hear his voice or his bagpipes anymore. And that is very sad and very hard to take. It’s also very unfair. He was taken from us too soon.
          Josie, Mattie, Dan, Julie, I’m sure that by now, at least one of you has heard someone say, “Well, he’s in a better place.” I’m sorry. Can I just tell you? I hate that phrase! Yes, I believe that something comes after this life, but I have no idea what it looks like. And though I’m certain that place is better than all of the pain and physical challenges that Ron struggled with in the last couple years, that statement, “he’s in a better place,” doesn’t speak into your reality. It ignores your pain and grief. It ignores your loss. Sure, Ron is in a better place, but we’re all in a poorer place because he’s not here with us.
          The truth is, we’re supposed to hurt. If I could say some nice words to take the pain away, then it couldn’t have been very much pain. This hurts because we love Ronnie and he loved us. The pain is real and the pain is deep and it’s because the love is real and it is deep. Don’t let anyone take that away from you!
          I take a great deal of comfort in the story we heard from the Gospel on John. Jesus is speaking to the disciples; this conversation takes place shortly after the Last Supper. Jesus is preparing the disciples for their lives after Jesus’ death and resurrection. He is speaking into their fears.
          In Jesus, the disciples had a direct relationship with God, in the flesh. Through Jesus, God could be known and seen and touched; God is made known to humanity through this physical presence. And then Jesus tells them he’s about to leave. For good. The disciples don’t know how they’re going to live without his presence in their lives or continue Jesus’ work in the world.
          What Jesus tells the disciples is that they will remain in relationship with him, even after the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. The relationship will remain—Jesus will abide in each one of them, and they in him. He will go to the Father’s house and make a dwelling place for each of them, and when it is their time, they will be reunited. And until that time, a bit of his Spirit remains with each of the disciples.
          Friends, this is where we enter this story. The disciples were real people; they are also stand-ins for us. They represent our hopes and fears and they explain how we are written into this story, too. Jesus tells the disciples that they will also participate in the resurrection. This means that each of us may participate in the resurrection and be reunited with those we have lost.
          So, yes, this story gives me comfort. It doesn’t paint a picture of angels, sitting on clouds and strumming harps. Nor does it suggest a host of bagpipe bands—with all of their drones perfectly in tune. It just tells me that we may be connected with Jesus and with God the Father, and, I hope, those who have gone before us. It tells me that the relationships don’t come to an end.
          And until that time of reunion, I hope that you, too, can hear these words from the Gospel of John, as well as the words from Ecclesiastes, and know that there is space for your grief. There is a time for every purpose, and this is the time to grieve your loss. It is also time to celebrate Ron’s life. You can say, “I’m glad that Ron isn’t in pain anymore,” and at the very same time, you can cry out, “I love you!” and, “I miss you!” It’s okay to feel both things at the same time and you don’t have to stop feeling these feelings or crying these tears. This is the price of being part of a loving family. I also hope that, as you think about Ron and reflect on these Scriptures, you’ll also live in the hope that comes along with being a part of God’s family. In this hope, there is the promise to each and every one of us that one day, when we pass from this world, we will be caught in the embrace of the loving arms of God the Father. So as we cry these tears of grief, let us also share in the joy of Ron’s life and the joy of God’s love. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession
Almighty God, in Jesus Christ you promised many rooms within your house. Give us faith to see, beyond touch and sight, some sure sign of your kingdom, and, where vision fails, to trust your love which never fails. Lift heavy sorrow and give us good hope in Jesus, so we may bravely walk our earthly way, and look forward to glad reunion in the life to come, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The LORD is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Into your hands, O merciful God, we commend your servant Ron. Acknowledge, we humbly pray, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock. Receive him into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light.


Now, friends, may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord; and the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, remain with you always. Amen.

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