Thursday, June 28, 2012

James Arch West, II

Burial Office 

Grace and peace to you this morning, and welcome to St. Andrew’s Church.  We come together this morning to give thanks for the life of a man who was son, brother, husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather, cousin, uncle, and friend.  James Arch West, II.  Who was born on the 18th of March, 1928, and who entered Greater Life this past Sunday, June 24th, 2012.  To share a word of comfort especially for you Netta, Jim, Steve, and all your family.  

We remember some great stories—fun moments, tender moments, the fullness of a long and rich life.  And certainly we give thanks as well for the witness in his own unique way of Christian faith.  Reflecting on the prayer offered in the anointing in those last hours in the hospital on Sunday, Depart, O Christian Soul, out of this world; In the Name of God the Father Almighty, who created you; In the Name of Jesus Christ, who redeemed you; In the Name of the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies you.  May your rest be this day in peace and your dwelling place in the Paradise of God.  Certainly on a day like this in the midst of all that is going on, we all of us are reminded again of our own mortality.  And as we offer our prayers and reflections this day, we might also take this moment to renew and refresh our own faith, and to hear again or perhaps even for the first time his gentle invitation to life, and life eternal.

1938.  Quite a year.  Across the ocean in Europe it is the year of the famous Munich Conference.  In a time of crisis, the leaders of the Great Powers enter heated negotiations with Adolph Hitler, leading to approval of the German annexation of Czechoslovakia.  Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announced “Peace in Our Time.”  Across another ocean, Japan invades China, 1938, a new stage of its expansionism.  In Washington D.C., 1938 was a year when things were going from bad to worse economically, a time of further recession within the decade we now call the Great Depression, and half way through his second term President Franklin Roosevelt would see his New Deal Democrats defeated in the midterm elections in both the House and the Senate.  Here in Pittsburgh the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright completed his design of a country home for Mr. and Mrs. Kauffman.  To be known as Fallingwater.  And right here in this neighborhood, 1938 saw the opening of the Highland Park Bridge.

A fascinating year to think about, in so many ways.  But I want to pause just for a moment with an event that happened on Sunday, November 6, 1938, right here—right where we are right now: as at this font a 10 year old boy and his 15 year old sister were presented for Holy Baptism.   James Archie West II, it says in the old Register, and Jean Louise West.  Son and daughter of Chester Arthur West and Fannie Devlin West, and both with godparents Franklin A. West and Margaret M. Irvin--the ceremony conducted by the Rev. Howard Paul Pullin, one of my illustrious predecessors as Rector of St. Andrew’s Church.  

(And to note as a side comment that Mr. Pullin, as he was known, was remembered by many for his great enjoyment of the children of St. Andrew’s Sunday School.  He had a dog who did tricks, and often on Sundays after services the children would gather around Mr. Pullin and his dog out in the Churchyard, and the dog would sit, point, jump, speak, fetch, and whatever other things that might have been included in the performance.  And then, at the end, when the little show was over, Mr. Pullin would tell the dog to dismiss the children with a prayer.  He would get up on his hind legs, put his paws together, and bark.)

I don’t know if that’s what happened on Sunday, November 6, 1938, after the baptismal service.  Jean might have been a little too old for it, but I like to think maybe Jim and some of his pals would have gone outside after the service for a little fun like that.

What I do know is that in that baptismal service, that morning, as that 10 year old boy stood by this very font, this prayer was offered: “O Merciful God, grant that like as Christ died and rose again, so this Child may die to sin and rise to newness of life.  Grant that all sinful affections may die in him, and that all things belonging to the Spirit may live and grow in him.  Grant that he may have power and strength to have victory, and to triumph, against the devil, the world, and the flesh.  Grant that whosoever is here dedicated to thee by our office and ministry, may also be endued with heavenly virtues, and everlastingly rewarded, through thy mercy, O blessed Lord God, who dost live, and govern all things, world without end.  Amen.”

And now, 74 years later, three-quarters of a century after that baptismal service, and in the 84th year of his rich and productive and meaningful life, we once again commend Jim West to the care of his heavenly father, as he comes before the Throne of the Almighty in the arms of his Savior.  And we remember him today as a man of great and interested faith, and as a man whose life was so marked with passion and generosity, a love of his family that was just so expansive, strength, and a good humored friendship.  He will be and already is so deeply missed, and yet there are preserved in the minds and hearts and memories of so many a wonderful legacy.  “Grant that he may have power and strength to have victory, and to triumph . . . .”  A wonderful prayer, all those years ago, and a wonderful prayer that would be shared as well with family, friends, all of us, today, this morning.  An invitation for us to hear, that we also might continue this day renewed and refreshed in Christ Jesus.

A word for us as well this morning from the great heavenly vision in the 21st Chapter of the Revelation to St. John the Divine: And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.”

In my Father’s house are many mansions.  Some contemporary translations give us this word from Jesus in John 14 as “In my Father’s house are many rooms.”  Which I guess makes sense, and which may be truer to the pattern of Greek as it is heard not in 16th century English but at the beginning of the 21st Century.  But I want to say this morning, as we commend the man so many called “Big Jim” West into the arms of our generous God, as we affirm our bonds in Jesus Christ for this life and the life to come, that there are mansions prepared for him, for us.  Of a grandeur and a glory and an abundance beyond anything we can imagine.  The fullness of sharing with Christ.  As he said, “that where I am, there ye may be also.”

As we express our friendship and sympathy today, acknowledging what is lost, may all that be embraced in a spirit of hope and expectation.  That Easter not be ever just a day on a calendar in the springtime, but the condition and reality of our lives, every month of the year, every day of our lives.  Which is why we light this Paschal Candle, the Candle of Easter, in the service this morning.  As we are born in Christ in baptism, as we live, as we die, and as we are reborn in his image and presence, to live in all fullness in the place, in the mansion, he has prepared for us.

And it seems just right to me here this morning that Amy will sing for us this song, “On Eagle’s Wings,” one of Jim and Netta’s favorites.  A sign of the Father’s deepest benediction and care for us, each of us individually, and as we think of Jim this morning.  May he rest in peace, and rise in glory. 

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