Sermon for the Funeral and Requiem Eucharist for Donald Wayne Butler
November 24, 2023
“Whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward” (Matthew 10:42). In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. ☩ Amen.
Let me tell you about the first time I met Wayne. I wasn’t supposed to, actually. I had come to town overnight with my family to interview to be the Rector here at Christ Church, and I just met the committee, and I wasn’t supposed to meet anyone else until it was confirmed that I would be appointed here. But when I emerged from the church hall, there was this man in the driveway with a big grin on his face and a loaf bread in hand. He introduced himself as Wayne, of course, talked my ear off about getting concerts going in the church again after COVID—and he was able to organize one concert before his stroke—and he told me that the brown bread from SASI’s was “some good” and had purchased a loaf for us for the morning.
This was Wayne as I knew him—all generosity, a bubbling fountain of goodwill, someone steadfastly cheerful and friendly in the face of illnesses and struggles. He was human, so he had his faults like the rest of us, but that never stopped him from showing us what it means to be human: to be connected to your neighbour, to enjoy the ordinary good things of life, and to offer God your heart and your hands.
There are not words for what it means to lose someone like Wayne. I am sure that you who were closest to him, his family and his friends, feel that wordless grief: the space left by him, the wound which, although it can heal, will heal differently than it was before. Our lives are different now, and miss Wayne terribly.
Since Wayne passed, my mind has returned many times to choral piece which is used for funerals in the Eastern Orthodox Church. It speaks of the grief and mystery of death, but also the hope of eternal life, the signs of which we have begun to see here on earth. It says:
“We go forth on the path eternal, and as condemned, with downcast faces, present ourselves before the only God eternal. Where then is comeliness? Where then is wealth? Where then is the glory of this world? There shall none of these things aid us, but only to say oft the psalm: Alleluia.
“If thou hast shown mercy unto man, O man, that same mercy shall be shown thee there; and if on an orphan thou hast shown compassion, that same shall there deliver thee from want. If in this life the naked thou hast clothed, the same shall give thee shelter there, and sing the psalm: Alleluia.“
Wayne does indeed go forth today on the path eternal, and our faces are downcast. We have come face-to-face, through our beloved Wayne, with the truth that this world is passing away, and that it is normal and right for us to be sad about this.
But then there is another word for us: “If thou hast shown mercy unto man, O man, that same mercy shall be shown thee there.” This is what the Gospel of Matthew (10:42) says: “Whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” I can only think of Wayne and the loaf of brown bread that made us welcome. How many of you have received a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name from Wayne? He will by no means lose his reward.
Acts of compassion and generosity do not take away the sting of death. But they do whisper their own secret: that death will someday be no more, displaced by overflowing life; that there is a realm above whose law is love, and which welcomes those who live in love; and that the eternal kingdom is among us now wherever people show goodwill and tenderhearted mercy.
We have seen and heard these signs of the coming kingdom through our brother Wayne. We miss him, and yet, as our prayers say, “Even at the grave, we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”