420. A Homily at the Funeral of a Dear Friend: Why we believe in eternal life

Last week I wrote that Khouria Dianna and I had spent much of the preceding week with a very good friend who was dying. And so he did, on Monday, September 18. May his memory be eternal, and may the Lord have mercy on us all. 

A Homily

at the Funeral of Calvin Anthony McIntyre

on Friday September 22, 2023, at Saint Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church, Cedarburg, Wisconsin

delivered by Father Bill Olnhausen


Funeral sermons these days are often only reminiscences about the one who is departed. That is the last thing Cal McIntyre would want. After this service, after lunch, we’ll have time to tell stories about Cal, and I’m sure there will be many. He was a remarkable man who did much good in many ways, who had many interests – a “renaissance man”. I count it one of the great privileges of my life to been his friend for almost 25 years. However, I know Cal wants me to preach about Jesus Christ, not about Cal, because he was a believer.  

Cal still is a believer. You’ll notice that in our prayers we do not pray for the dead; we pray for the departed, those who have left here and moved on. 

I just read the story of a reclusive nun who spent all her time sitting in her cell. Someone asked her: Why are you just sitting there? She answered: I’m not sitting here. I am on a great journey.

Cal McIntyre is not just lying here. Cal is off on a great journey. Not a new journey. The same journey he began here in this life, following Jesus Christ, united with the Church. But now onto a new stage of that journey, his soul no longer burdened by his body and all the trouble and pain it gave him recently. Now he’s really flying. 

Why should we believe such a thing? Cal sure looks dead, nothing but dead. Why do we believe he has moved on?

It’s not that we can prove it. Nothing in this life is a matter of proof. None of us will really know for certain till we, each of us, depart and follow after him. For now we must believe on faith – but not a vague faith based on shadows and wishes and dreams.

Saint Paul wrote to the Hebrews (11: 1-2): “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”  Our Christian faith has substance, is based on solid evidence which comes chiefly from our Lord Jesus Christ.

God became Incarnate in Jesus Christ. If we believe that, then we must believe what He said. He taught often why He came to us. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16  “Those who believe in me will have life even if they die. And everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” John 11:26  Take today’s Gospel reading, the words of our Lord Jesus Christ: “Truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged, but has passed over from death to life. Truly I tell you, the time is coming and now is when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.” John 5:24 Over and over He laid it out so clearly.

Why should we trust Christ’s words about death and eternal life? Because He Himself went into death before us, and came out the other side, rose again victorious over death. “Come, follow me”, He had said – through life, through death and into the World beyond. Add to that our experience over the centuries with the Lord and His Mother and the saints who have sometimes made their presence known so clearly. All that is the evidence for our faith.

That is why we believe, even though we can’t see it, why we have sure and certain faith that Cal McIntyre, though his body lies dead on this side, is now alive and well on the other side of death. 

At Pascha, Orthodox Easter, we sing over and over: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.” You who know it, let’s sing it. [“Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.”]  He is now bestowing life on all who have died. Cal McIntyre is dead. Cal  McIntyre lives!

What is Cal experiencing now? What will happen to us immediately after we die? The Orthodox Church is reticent about that, because Jesus never told us. Why didn’t He didn’t spell it out? Perhaps because after death our soul moves into a Land beyond our earthly space and time, into a Reality that can’t be described in earthly words. Therefore we Orthodox leave the details as a mystery. Jesus simply told His apostles: ”In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me, that you also may be where I am.” John 5:14 That’s enough for us to know.

So Cal has passed on from this “room” of God’s house up the stairs into the next room of God’s house. His journey with the Lord which began here now continues – a great journey onwards and upwards. 

Towards where? Saint Paul wrote that in his vision he had seen into the “third heaven”,  the third room up from here, whatever that means; he said he couldn’t describe it. 2 Corinthians 12:2–4 It’s a journey till finally we get to the highest room of all, the Room beyond all rooms, the fullness of the Presence of God.

We know that for some the journey may lead elsewhere, but I have no doubt where Cal is headed. Cal died believing, after a life where he did so much good. He died in union with Christ, in union with His Church. Cal is headed in the right direction.

Some have seen the next stage of the journey as chiefly a period of punishment for our sins. The Orthodox Church does not see it that way. One of our great Church Fathers, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, described the journey as “advancing from glory to glory.” I wonder what wonders Cal is seeing now. 

For myself at least, I know I will require some purification. I am a sinner. When I die, before many years now, I know I’ll still fall very short of the perfection to which God calls me. Like the man in Christ’s parable who came to the Heavenly Banquet shabbily dressed Matthew 22:11-13 , I know I’ll need to get cleaned up before I can stand before the throne of God. How will God accomplish this after I die? I don’t know

Do we grieve today? I certainly do. It was so hard in my intercession list to transfer Cal’s name, the name of my good friend, from the list of the Living to the list of the Departed. I thought I just couldn’t to do it. I grieve.

That is why Saint Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: “Brethren: I would not have you to be ignorant  concerning those who are asleep, so that you will not sorrow as others who have no hope.” 1 Corinthians 4:13

All of us who knew Cal sorrow today. It’s not right to pretend we don’t. Death in and of itself is a horror, a tragedy. Death is our enemy. Saint Paul wrote, “the last enemy to be destroyed is death”. 1 Corinthians 15:26

The Orthodox Church wisely gives us who remain behind a set of “passages” to help us deal with our grieving. This process began immediately after death, when Father Ignatius and I said “Trisagion Prayers” over Cal’s body. These are chiefly prayers for the one who has departed, so that we can do something for them – help them along on their journey. Today the Funeral, then at the burial the same Trisagion Prayers. After forty days, the Trisagion Prayers are offered again, usually here in church. They’re repeated again after a year – “we’ve made it through a year” – and at the family’s discretion on anniversaries after that.

Paul says, “we sorrow, but not like those who have no hope”. How terrible it must be for those poor people who look at their loved ones lying like this and lower them into the ground without hope – “That’s it. It’s all over. I’ll never see him again.” – and who face their own oncoming deaths without hope. 

But as Christians our sorrow is filled with hope. Both Christ in today’s Gospel reading and Paul in today’s Epistle teach us to look forward to the Last Day when evil will be no more, when death will finally be conquered – the End of all things. “Do not be amazed at this… for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.” John 5:28  This also is a mystery beyond our comprehension. All we know is Christ promised it.

Then in His words, “He will send out His angels to the four corners of the earth, and they will gather His chosen people from one end of the world to the other …“ Matthew 24:31  and so “we shall ever be with the Lord”. I Thessalonians 4:17  All of us together with the Lord forever.  

We Orthodox sing “Memory eternal, may his memory be eternal.” That is where Cal’s memory will be eternal, in that eternal Land above. Certainly not here. Before many decades have passed, there will not be a soul here on earth who ever knew Cal McIntyre, no one here to remember him. His memory will be eternal there.

Therefore: Cal McIntyre, hang on up there. We miss you more than words can say. While we remain behind on earth we always will. I wish you could have been with us here at little longer. I’m sorry that in the Great Journey you’ve got the jump on us! (No surprise to me. Cal, you were ahead of me so often in this life.) But please don’t get too far ahead of us. We’re all coming behind you. And by the promise of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ, we will all be together again. 

Let’s conclude by saying what we Orthodox say over and over at Pascha. This is the ground of our hope: 

“Christ is risen!”  “Truly He is risen!”

“Christ is risen!”  “Truly He is risen!

“Christ is risen!”  “Truly He is risen!

Next Two Weeks: More of Christ’s admonitions for living – Matthew chapters 6 and 7.


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