E. Brent Peddicord
Ecclesiastes 3:1-11/The Revelation to John 21:3b-5/John 14:1-3
Death, the most assured human attribute, remains the most mysterious. So it is that humans for countless millennia have stopped all activity to ponder the life and death of a loved one as a way of delving into the very mysteries of life and death.
The loss of someone we know and love and cherish takes us away from the busyness of our day- to-day existence so that in a sense time stops. We stop. And traditionally we gather as a community to stop whatever we are doing and to simply be with one another for a brief time away from all other time.
Ecclesiastes, frequently translated as The Preacher, knows about time. There is a time for everything under the sun. This is one of those times.
And in the Revelation to John, the mysterious eternal quality of time is referenced as Alpha and Omega, the totality of all that is, seen and unseen, quite literally everything from A to Z in our alphabet – that which can be perceived, and that which must be taken on faith. All that is emanates from a single point, a single person identified as God in our text. We are his people, he is our God – a God like no other, a God whose very essence, whose very quality is to be with us at moments like this when time seems to stop, to wipe away our tears and to make all things new.
Jesus, speaking to his closest friends the night before he is to die, gathers them to prepare them for the inevitable.
Like most of us here, they protest, “How can this be? Where are you going? We will come with you!”
Note how Jesus, the one who is about to die a cruel death is the one comforting them. Jesus replies in metaphor – in my father’s house are many mansions. The Greek text translates more like way stations – a stopping place on one’s journey, one's way from point A to point B. A resting place. Only these way stations are of God and with God – the God who himself is with us, wiping away our tears, has prepared a particular place for each and every one of us.
Jesus’ assertion is unequivocal – there are no requirements, no conditions, no need for beliefs, faith or any other prerequisites. A place has been prepared, and God himself, Jesus, promises to come again and receive us so that where he is, we too shall be.
As a dear friend and former Jesuit has put it, “We come from Love, we return to Love, and Love is all around.” The heart of God is Love. And as Jesus constantly tries to remind us, the time is now. Time is the temple of eternity. We say, “Time is of the essence,” and perhaps we are not conscious of just how true that really is - for time is the essence of God, of God's son, and God's Love.
Brent had a special relationship with time. As most of you know, he had a lifelong interest in clocks and became a serious collector and historian in his later years. While he appreciated the clocks for their mechanical intricacies, the woodworking of their cases, his focus as a collector was on preservation, not simply acquisition. He saw himself not so much as an owner or as an investor, but as a steward. He enjoyed spending time doing research and traveling to auctions, but it was his steady devotion to clocks – the regular winding and dusting, the timely oiling or repair – that marked him as a collector. His interest was in caring for them while they were in his possession so they could be appreciated by future generations. His hope was that each clock would one day leave his custody in working order and in better shape than when he acquired it.
His steady, reliable caretaking habits also marked him as a son, a husband, a father, a brother, and an employee. He was someone who could be counted on to take care of things. Brent knew how to look to the past for guidance and how to look at the future so he could plan for it, but he lived his life in the present and understood how the accumulation of small, daily acts added up to a life that mattered.
It is a life that has called us to stop and allow ourselves simply to be in this present moment – to remember Brent, to remember his continual acts of stewardship, and perhaps to become aware that there is a larger presence in the here and now of time that we rarely take time to acknowledge.
We come from Love, we return to Love and Love is all around. Brent has made the round-trip journey from and to Love. Brent was very much a tangible and palpable expression of that Love being all around. He could sense it in the very pulse of time, with each tick and each tock. He preserved the eternal presence in time so that we might come to appreciate it and know it ourselves.
We have only this brief time together to contemplate these things, and yet that shall be more than enough time to bring us closer to God, closer to one another and closer to our selves.
The late Henri Nouwen, renowned priest, teacher and writer, in reflecting on his mother’s death, writes the following:
"There is a time of waiting for the Spirit of truth to come, and woe unto me if, by forgetting her, I prevent her from doing God’s work in me. I sensed that something much more than a filial act of remembering was at stake, much more than an honoring of my dead mother, much more than a holding on to her beautiful example. Very specifically, what was at stake was the life of the Spirit in me.
To remember her does not mean telling her story over and over again to my friends, nor does it mean pictures on the wall or a stone on her grave; it does not even mean constantly thinking about her. No. It means making her a participant in God’s ongoing work of redemption by allowing her to dispel in me a little more of my darkness and lead me a little closer to the light. In these weeks of mourning she died in me more and more every day, making it impossible for me to cling to her as my mother. Yet, by letting her go I did not lose her. Rather, I found that she is closer to me than ever. In and through the Spirit of Christ, she indeed is becoming a part of my very being." p.60 In Memoriam, Henri Nouwen
The light Nouwen speaks of shines on Brent – the light of the Paschal Candle, first lit in the darkness of Easter Eve, the Light of Christ. Saint John says that His light is the life of all men, and that no darkness has overcome it. Brent has become a part of the essence of this light.
As the Preacher known to us as Ecclesiastes makes certain, none of us can possibly know very much of what lies between Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. But we can be those people who are assured that now Brent knows in ways that he could only have imagined for the brief time he lived among us. What that mansion, that way station, that has been prepared for his arrival looks like we can only imagine – but it seems almost certain that there will be at least one clock for him to ponder, to care for, to preserve and to repair as we continue our journey to Love ourselves.
Even now, Brent is becoming a part of our very being in new and important ways. We are promised that in death life is changed, not ended. And sooner than we think, wherever he is, we too shall be, united in time eternal – each and every tick of the clock brings us closer and closer still. For that, and for a life faithfully lived as a steward of things and relationships precious in this world, we give thanks. Amen.