January 7, 2017
Otto Harry Gruner III (July 27, 1927 – December 9, 2016)
Jesus speaks to his disciples in the 14th chapter of St. John: “Whither I go, ye know, and the way ye know.” He says this in the night of the Last Supper, with the whole story of Good Friday and the Cross about to play out. The story that begins in the winter of Christmas, in a silent night in Bethlehem, ends in the victory of the Cross and the Empty Tomb of a bright Easter morning--Jesus unconquered. The power of death overturned. And we do want to hear that report today. That news: the power of death overturned. The Ascension into heaven. The promise of his return. The good news of sins forgiven, of the mercy and forgiveness and tender Fatherly love of God ready to take up residence in every home and every heart. Christian life and Christian hope. In the Old Testament words of Job, in the midst of his many sufferings, “I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth. And though this body be destroyed, yet shall I see God; whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not as a stranger.”
It is very much an honor and a privilege to share in this service for Harry Gruner. Son, brother, husband, father, grandfather. A fullness of life: 89 years! Naval officer, sportsman, businessman and entrepreneur, community leader, and friend. To remember his life in all its richness—and I so much appreciate the tributes that have been shared with us this morning. I have known Harry only in the past few years of his life—his last years, colored so much by age and then by his journey through Parkinson’s disease. I enjoyed reading in the obituary you all prepared about his exceptionally active life, full of energy and enthusiasm in so many ways. Fisherman, hunter, golfer, athlete. And I loved the sentence, “most memorably, Harry was funny, blessed with a gentle, wry sense of humor.” That’s an aspect of Harry I would say that I was able to experience and enjoy, even in these later years—and something he continued to communicate through his eyes and expressions even when other forms of communication began to deteriorate. A great man. The first time I met him, you’ll remember, Nancy, was at a dinner party a number of years ago at your home up in Fox Chapel, along with our mutual good friends and prayer partners Tom and Liz Phillips. (And I would share that in e-mail and other communications over these weeks I have heard from Tom several times, and from Brad Wilson down in South Carolina, and from my friend and colleague Alex Shuttleworth, who is the current rector of Christ Anglican in Fox Chapel, three really fine pastors and friends, and all have communicated their love and continued prayers.) I think the second time I saw Harry was not long after that dinner, on a Christmas morning when he was being cared for over at St. Margaret’s, and the three of us, you’ll remember, Nancy, had the chance to share Christmas Communion and a prayer. Other times of hospitality and visits after you guys had moved over to Longwood. And then such an amazing gift, on Tuesday December 6, just a month ago, just a few days before he died. You had a lunch date with my wife Susy and I got invited along as a third wheel. Very kind of you both to include me! And after lunch I drove you back up the hill to your place and Harry was sitting up in the living room in a chair looking over a number of family snapshots. Kids and grandkids. We chatted for a bit, and then I was able to share with him an anointing with holy oil and prayers of blessing and healing and strength and peace. Didn’t realize it, of course, but this was a prayer and an outward sign of preparation for the new journey he would begin just a few days later on Friday. Passing from this life into greater life.
So blessings this morning. As we offer together the ancient prayers of the church for Harry, not just as we say the words but as we gather the faith and life and witness of the whole Christian family and offer the deepest knowledge and desire of our hearts to almighty God. As we hear the words of scripture, the psalms, the lessons, the Good News of Jesus Christ. Born at Christmas. The light of world. “Whither I go, ye know, and the way ye know.” Or, as St. Paul says in our reading from Romans 8: “Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor thing to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Jesus and St. Paul are both talking about something more than what we might call our religious opinions and theories, our theological positions or understandings of various issues and concerns of the day. Our churchmanship or our denominations. What they are talking about is a deeper kind of knowing than that. The kind of knowing that we talk about when we say that a child knows his mother. It’s about relationship. About the word we use in the Church with real meaning and sincerity: about faith. Something that can be expressed in words, but really is much deeper than words can express. About being in relationship with God securely. “You know where I am going, and how to get there,” Jesus says, “because you and I are going to the same place, returning to the same home, to that mansion that the Father who loves us has prepared for us. And I am the way to that home, the Truth, the Life. No man cometh unto the Father but by me.” It would be my hope and prayer, family and friends, that as we share in these prayers for Harry we would each one of us hear and feel and know as well an invitation to enter, and to enter more deeply, into that relationship, with the one who has loved us and has longed for that relationship with us from the beginning of the world. We can pause for a moment: take the opportunity of that invitation.
The Funeral Sentences from the ancient prayers of the Church, “In the midst of life we are in death.” Thinking how very fragile we are in this short life. How precious every day is. Every day is a gift, a real gift—and of course a gift that comes with no guarantee. Even when we say, “see you tomorrow,” we don’t really know. We may have the fullness of nine decades, as Harry did. Or not. But always one day at a time. And so as we come together today to hear, to remember, to comfort one another, to give thanks for Harry’s life, we might also be reminded of a certain urgency in our own lives as well.
“I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.”
Blessings all, in this new year. I would ask that we would stand now and to turn in the Blue Hymnal in the pews to Hymn #562, and we will sing together stanzas 1, 4, and 5 of the great old hymn, “Onward Christian Soldiers.”