THE BURIAL SERVICE FOR JAMES L. BLACKSTOCK

ST. AUGUSTINE’S EPISCOPAL CHURCH, MORROW, GEORGIA
THE REV. BARRY GRIFFIN, RECTOR

From our Book of Common Prayer: “The liturgy for the dead is an Easter liturgy. It finds all its meaning in the resurrection. Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we, too, shall be raised.

“The liturgy, therefore, is characterized by joy, in the certainty that ‘neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’

“This joy, however, does not make human grief unchristian. The very love we have for each other in Christ brings deep sorrow when we are parted by death. Jesus himself wept at the grave of his friend. So, while we rejoice that one we love has entered into the nearer presence of our Lord, we sorrow in sympathy with those who mourn.”

You may have noticed that we began this service with a hymn that’s upbeat.  Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee is not exactly standard fare at a burial service.  But JoAnn made it clear to me that she wanted James’ service to be joyful.  “That’s what James would want,” she said.  So today we will be joyful.  We will celebrate.

In fact, we’re celebrating several things.  We’re celebrating James, of course: the man that he was; his integrity; his faithfulness; his devotion to family, church and God; his service to others.

At the same time, we’re celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  As our prayer book reminds us, a burial service is an Easter service.  Because Jesus was raised from the dead, James also is raised from the dead.  So this morning we celebrate his new life.  And we celebrate the reunion with James that awaits us in eternity.

Even as we grieve, there’s good reason to celebrate. 

Now, James was a proud Marine.  On the Sunday prior to Veterans Day I usually ask our veterans to stand and be recognized.  I’ll always remember how James would leap to his feet and stand at attention.  I think his military training kicked back in.  One Sunday I almost said, “James!  At ease!”  I guess you can take the man out of the Marines, but you can’t take the Marines out the man.

My dad was a World War II Navy veteran.  When he died several years ago he was buried in Waycross, Georgia, and The Navy Hymn was sung at his graveside.  Maybe you know it.  It’s in our hymnal, and some of you may remember that it was sung at President Kennedy’s burial service in 1963.

Eternal Father strong to save,

whose arm hath bound the restless wave,

who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep

its own appointed limits keep:

O hear us when we cry to thee’

for those in peril on the sea.

         So I thought there might be a Marine Hymn that we could sing today, and I Googled “Marine Hymn”.  Wikipedia told me that the Marine Hymn is actually the old familiar “From the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli”.

I love that.  The Marine Hymn is more of a college fight song than a solemn hymn.  Leave it to the Marines!

What I really like is the third verse.  This was new to me:

         Here’s health to you and to our Corps

         Which we are proud to serve;

         In many a strife we’ve fought for life       

         And never lost our nerve.

(Now here’s the best part.)

         If the Army and the Navy

         Ever look on Heaven’s scenes,

         They will find the streets are guarded

         By United States Marines!

I bet James liked that verse a lot.

And now about James and JoAnn.  As JoAnn describes it, I’d say their relationship began with a bang.  It was 1965, and the young JoAnn was “beyond cool”.  While driving around Brooklyn in her brand new 1965 Ford Mustang her air conditioning blew up.  It was quite a bang.  Glass flew everywhere.  So JoAnn pulled into a nearby Texaco station, and her knight in a shining Texaco uniform saved the day.  James fixed her car, he fixed her hair (which was filled with glass), and eventually he won her heart.

And then came daughter Jill.  Jill, it’s always seemed to me that you and your dad had an extraordinary bond.  I think that as long you live a part of your dad’s spirit will remain with us on this earth, and we will be blessed by that.

Yes, James was a family man.  And dogs were a big part of the family.  As James was leaving this world, God sent a new dog, Sasha, to bring peace, comfort and joy to JoAnn and Jill.  I have met Sasha, and I am convinced of that.

When I was young I sometimes heard a descriptive term that I seldom hear anymore.  My mother would use this term sometimes.  She always meant it as a compliment: a compliment she paid only to certain men.  She would say, “He’s tender-hearted.  Mister So-and-so is a tender-hearted man.”

Coming from my mother, that was a great compliment indeed.

Now, James was a big Marine, but he was also tender-hearted in the best sense of the word.

I learned this one Sunday years ago when I was standing at the altar.  It was the Offertory.  We were singing “How Great Thou Art,” and I saw tears streaming down James’ face.  In that moment I realized how much James loved the Lord. 

One of James’ favorite hymns was The Old Rugged Cross.  We’ll sing it later at communion.  Here’s the last verse:

         To the old rugged cross I will ever be true,

         Its shame and reproach gladly bear.

         Then he’ll call me some day to my home far away

         Where his glory forever I’ll share.

[sung]        

         And I’ll cherish the old rugged cross.

         ‘til my trophies at last I lay down.

         I will cling to the old rugged cross

         And exchange it some day for a crown.

James now has his crown.

Sing to the Lord a new song! the psalms tell us.  As much as James loved the old hymns, today he is singing a new song: the Song of the Redeemed.  We give it our best down here below, but we are limited and the songs we offer are limited.  That will change in eternity.

In eternity we will be re-united with James and those who have gone before us, and we will add our voices to theirs.  We’ll rejoice.  We’ll join in the Song of the Redeemed.  And we’ll lose ourselves in wonder, love and praise.

Walter Anderson is a long-time friend of James.  JoAnn and Jill have invited him to offer a remembrance…

 Amen.

If you would like to respond to this sermon or receive future sermons by email, contact me at barryqgriffin@earthlink.net

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