Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Memorial Service for Charlie Hart

Memorial Service – Charles McKey Hart

(June 9, 1919 – October 8, 2006)
Lamentations 3:22-26,31-33; Psalm 46; 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:5; Psalm 23; John 14:1-6
Tuesday, October 17, 2006 – St. Alban’s, Westwood

As we gather to say our farewells and to honor the life of Charlie Hart, I think it is particularly appropriate that we have this Gospel reading from John. This passage that we just read is the beginning of Jesus' farewell discourse to his disciples. In this discourse, Jesus sums up the purpose for his completed ministry on earth and tells his disciples about what is to come – about his death and resurrection. More importantly, for them, and for those of us gathered here today, he tells about what it means for humanity that he will be resurrected and ascend to Heaven.

When Jesus talks about going to his Father’s house, he is not just talking about location, but also about relationship (O’Day, 740). “The imagery of the dwelling places points to the inclusion of others in the relationship with God and Jesus. Jesus uses the domestic imagery to say ‘My return to God will make it possible for you to join me in the relationship that the Father and I share’” (O’Day, 741). For him to go, through death and resurrection, to his Father's house, with dwelling places for all, was to prepare a place of permanent fellowship. This Gospel passage is, therefore, not about separation, but about deeper fellowship.

Jesus promises to take his own to himself. This is a “promise of the arrival of the hoped-for age, which is marked by reunion and reconciliation with God, by inhabiting one’s ‘place’ in God’s home” (O’Day, 741). Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection provide us with the certainty that we are God’s beloved children and that God wants nothing more than for us to be reconciled to Him in this life, and to spend eternity with him when our lives on this earth are completed. His life, death, and resurrection provide the means by which this can and will happen for each and every one of us.

As evidenced throughout scripture, our Judeo-Christian faith is all about relationship – our relationship to our God and our relationships to one another. Ours is a story of a God who created us in his image. Ours is a story of a God who continually seeks to be in relationship with us. Ours is a story of men and women who seek to be in relationship with one another. Because of our story, we know that it is through relationship that we ultimately seek to know and be known by the One who created us. We accomplish this through community – through our communities of faith, and through the communities that are our families and friends. This importance of community was exemplified by the life of Charlie Hart.

While small of stature, Charlie was a giant among men when it comes to creating and being part of community. Charlie has been characterized as having twinkling eyes and a big, cheerful smile. These physical attributes complimented a similarly winning personality – a non-stop and contagious sense of humor, a strong sense of integrity, a genuine interest in those he encountered, the ability to inspire and cheer on others, a passion for a number of varied activities, and compassion for his fellow human beings.

First and foremost, Charlie was a “people person.” Because of his winning personality, everyone loved Charlie and loved to be with him. And he obviously loved being around other people. Alice, his wife, once commented that there was “never an invitation he said ‘no’ to.” Even later in life, he would not allow a little thing like being confined to a wheelchair to keep him from accepting an invitation. On one occasion, he attended a party while in his wheelchair. Rather than be relegated to the sidelines, he insisted on sitting in the middle of the room so that he could be with all the other partiers and be in the midst of all the action.

When Cynthia and Mary Ann selected the Gospel reading for this service, I immediately had an image of Charlie entering heaven and instantly going from room to room, introducing himself and getting to know the neighbors. And I’m sure that if there were not a party for him to be invited to, he would get busy and organize one himself.

But his greatest joy was his family. He deeply loved his family, particularly his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, with each of whom he had a special and unique relationship. He was always there for each of them, no matter what the need. And as a result, they were always there for him, even to the end. He obviously taught his family the meaning of love, which they gratefully and joyously returned to him. But as much as he loved his family, by far his greatest love was Alice, his beloved wife. At one point near his death, he commented that he just wanted to hold her hand. After five years apart, he finally got his wish.

If unconditional love and devotion to community are the hallmarks of the Kingdom of God, Charlie will fit right in in Heaven. And I think it’s safe to say that he certainly provided a foretaste of that Kingdom while he was here. Charlie lived the Gospel and proclaimed it to all he met through his actions.

Remember, today’s Gospel is not about separation, but about deeper fellowship. When Jesus opens his discourse by saying “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” he is exhorting his disciples “to stand firm in the face of his departure, when the events [of his death] may look to them as if evil and death are having their way. It is a rallying cry for strength” (O’Day, 740). These words and their intended meaning ring true for us here today, just as they did for the disciples. In this time of grief, and in the days ahead when the loss of Charlie’s life and his absence will be most painfully felt by you, his family and friends, remember this rallying cry. Yes, Charlie is no longer here physically, but that does not mean he is gone. He is still with you. He lives on in your hearts – in the memories of your time together and the joy you feel when you think about them, in the lessons that he taught you, in how he touched your lives to help form the persons you are today.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


O’Day, Gail R. “The Gospel of John: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflection.” In Vol. IX of The New Interpreter’s Bible. Edited by Leander E. Keck, et al. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995.

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