Homily at the memorial service for
Louis Seymour Zimmerman
20 July 2018, Grace Church, Great Barrington, MA
The Rev. Peter Elvin
“Walk fearlessly into the house of mourning; for grief is just Love squaring up to its oldest enemy. And after all these mortal human years, Love is up to the challenge.”
Those words come from an interview with Kate Braestrup, community minister, law enforcement chaplain, and author, who was widowed at a young age. In her work, she joins the Maine Warden Service when they search the wild woods and waters of Maine, looking for people who have lost their way, and comforting their loved ones as they wait, either for reunion or the recovery of a body.
Kate Braestrup may be a good person to hear from today, as she points us to why we gather at this table. It is to repair and renew our trust that love is up to the challenge.
Janet, Frank, Thomas, Patrick, Kate, Luke, Beth, and Ian, you have been longer in the house of mourning than any of us in the aftermath of that brutal Monday morning. Many of us are still caught in some stage of shock and disbelief after Sey’s death– but you have had to acquaint yourselves with the house of mourning, and to discover that it has ample space for celebrating Sey’s extraordinary life, with room for laughter as well as for tears. Longer and deeper than any of us, you have felt the unique pain of facing this unthinkable unwanted change in your family circle. You have discovered a healing balm from being together as a family, united by the common task of navigating in varied ways the intensity of this sudden loss, this sudden challenge to face grief as the costliest movement of love.
This understanding of grief makes sense, at a time when so little does make sense, of why we gather here at the table of new life. Here, in a place of worship that was deeply special to Sey, a holy space he helped reconfigure each weekend, positioning chairs just where they needed to be, in order to let communion flow smoothly (and we have needed that skill of his today), here, in a space that has Sey’s gracious fingerprints all over it, here can be for each of us what the Celtic tradition calls “a thin place,” a liminal place.
That was a way familiar to ancient pagan Celts, and later to Christians, to describe mesmerizing places like windswept isles and rocky peaks such as Croagh Patrick, St. Patrick’s sacred mountain in Ireland– the kind of places where Sey loved to hike. He was born on St. Patrick’s Day, and last night he was given an authentic Irish wake by his school and college friends. Whether that too was a thin place, you’d have to ask those who attended…
“Heaven and earth,” the Celtic saying goes, “are only three feet apart, but in thin places that distance is even shorter.”
So, to use language from the Book of Common Prayer, at the Lord’s table of new life we discover that God, by the Holy Spirit, has made us one with the saints in heaven and on earth; and that here, in our earthly pilgrimage, we may always be supported by a fellowship of love and prayer, and know ourselves to be surrounded by their witness to God’s love and compassion.
That is what this thin place is for. A hymn puts it like this:
“God is love; and love enfolds us, all the world in one embrace:
with unfailing grasp God holds us, every child of every race.
And when human hearts are breaking under sorrow’s iron rod,
then we find that self-same aching deep within the heart of God…
God is love; so Love forever o’er the universe must reign.”
–Timothy Rees, 1874-1939, No. 379 in The Hymnal 1982
Sey Zimmerman understood that for love to reign over the universe, people must choose to become agents of that love. Fortunate, happy, and blessed is the person who makes that choice, for he or she will keep calling-out people to work with God, to welcome the Spirit of God, to value what is within people, to pull sparks out of them.
In Jesus’s well-admired sermon on the mount, words appear which could have been written about Sey. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God… Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for what is right, for they shall be satisfied.”
I want to close this homily by suggesting a few more beatitudes fitting for Sey.
Blessed is the person whose integrity is recognized and valued by all as a gift that builds honest community.
Blessed are all who believe that the world is extremely good, including our innate resistance to injustice; for we may actively persuade others to share generously the world’s goodness.
Blessed are those who keep a long roster of friends, and keep in touch with them, for such people are the glue that binds our human circles. They also may be asked to co-chair their College reunions…
Blessed are those who have a huge voice and don’t always listen for the organist’s pitch, but with full diaphragm ready to go, they go… and inspire people to sing from the heart.
Blessed is the person whose approach to others is, “Teach me something I don’t know,” for this attitude makes open minds and open hearts.
Blessed is the person who practices leadership that puts the letters “co” first, as in co-parenting, co-ministering, co-chairing, for he and she will inspire cooperation. Sey had both a gift and a skill for that.
Blessed is the parent who places above career coaching a child’s team, going on vacation as a family, or teaching Sunday School, for that kind of support and satisfaction is irreplaceable.
Blessed is the man who may be called crazy by some, for following his beloved wife in pursuit of her calling, her career, even at the expense of his own advancement: for they embody marriage equality and true partnership.
Blessed are we, to have known and loved Sey Zimmerman.
And blessed are all who walk fearlessly into the house of mourning: for grief is just Love squaring up to its oldest enemy. And after all these mortal human years, Love is up to the challenge.