Burial of the Dead and Holy Eucharist / Saturday, June 23, 2018, 2pm
St. Luke in the Fields, NYC / Scripture: Isaiah 25:6-9 / John 11:21-27
Like most of you here today, I would rather not be here at St. Luke in the Fields on Pride weekend, laying our brother Paul to rest. I would rather see Paul tomorrow, corralling all of us Episcopalians around a float that declares to the world: “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You,” a message from the core of who Paul was and is to us still: whoever you are, wherever you are from, whatever you believe, whoever and however you love–you are welcome here, you are invited to the table of this feast of life. It feels completely unfair that Paul won’t be there tomorrow, spreading that love that was his life’s work, that he won’t be here next year, or for years and years to come, marching with us, feasting with us, celebrating with us.
When Paul died last month, I spent some time searching for tucked away memories of Paul, searching my email, his Facebook page, clicking through pictures of Paul’s smiling face, jaunty scarf tossed around his neck, a cigarette between his fingers. His sweet, knowing smile. His enviable pictures of croissants, espresso, French wine. The elegance of a Parisian cafe in the early morning after his flight had landed but before his hotel had opened. Blog posts from his friends.
I am grateful especially for two remembrances I found. For Doug Blanchard’s eulogy for Paul, remembering Paul’s early days in New York, how he worked as a cocktail waiter at Uncle Charlie’s, getting his, in Doug’s words, cute “tuchus” pinched all night by the patrons there. Doug wrote:
“Paul was one of those rare people who could light up a room whenever he walked into it. And he could do so without dominating it. He was a real bon vivant who thoroughly enjoyed life from good company to good food. Doing good work and being generous was less a solemn act of self-sacrifice for him than it was a way of keeping the party going and the guests happy; a very exceptional quality for a saintly person. … His sudden departure leaves a great big hole in the middle of so many lives. As I said to a fellow parishioner, we now live in a post Paul world, and we are about to find out just how much we depended on him.”
I am also grateful for Christian Paolino’s meditation on Paul’s influence on countless livelihoods of so many LGBT people, through his organizing work for the Episcopal Diocese of New York LGBT affairs committee. Christian wrote:
“Imagine how many LGBT people saw that small army [of Episcopalians] and that float over the years, and thought, “Wait, what? A church wants me? All I’ve ever heard from church people was what an abomination I am.” Be they a teenager scared to come out to [their] parents, or an older person who finally came to grips with a lifelong secret, this witness affected people on the sidelines: I know, because I was part of that march many times, and they told me, sometimes with tears in their eyes.”
The scripture says:
“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death for ever.
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces” (Isaiah 25:6-9)
Paul’s sister Nancy and those closest to Paul chose this scripture from Isaiah because of its invocation of Paul’s favorite things: rich food filled with marrow and well-matured wines. But I love it for its quiet assurance to all of us who mourn this day: “the Lord will swallow up death for ever, the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,” just as Paul did for so many people who felt lost or unloved by their families of origin or their church.
I met Paul over ten years ago when I started coming to church here at St. Luke in the Fields, searching for a community where I could figure out who I was. I knew a few things about myself: I loved musical theater, and New York City, and fancy elaborate dinners, I loved church, specifically the Episcopal Church and its rich worship tradition, I loved singing hymns with gusto in four-part harmony, and I loved drama. So St. Luke’s was the perfect place, right? I quickly joined the acolyte guild, where I got to do synchronized torch bearing with so many of you, including Paul, working my way through the ranks.
St. Luke’s is the right kind of place for those of us who love the finer things in life, delicious food, lusty singing, and again, drama. I mentioned that I spent some time searching my inbox for memories of Paul, because I remembered all the juicy emails over the years that folks on the acolyte guild would fire back and forth, representing just a fraction of the drama that actually goes down in the sacristy. I wanted to find a sassy quip or two from Paul, but I came up short. And I realized what made Paul so very special was his quiet kindness, neutrality in the face of conflict, his steady loyalty to the institutions to which he belonged and served. Not to say there was never any snark from Paul, of course, but he coasted above the drama, didn’t he? I think of him now, straddling coffee hour and the sacristy, at the smoking bench, flicking that cigarette, quietly observing, interested in everyone’s stories.
Shortly after I first came to St. Luke’s, I saw Paul one night at Marie’s Crisis, sitting by the piano, and we sang showtunes together all night long. I felt a piece of myself click into place that night, knowing that I had found a home where I could be myself, a church where I had the privilege to follow in the footsteps of the faithful Christians who had come before me, Christians like Paul, who devoted their lives to widening the entrance to the feast.
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” I know you join me in echoing Martha’s words to Jesus; God, how could you let this happen to Paul, your servant, our beloved brother and friend? “Your brother will rise again,” Jesus says to Martha and says now to us. The resurrection we believe in as Christians, that we celebrate every time we come together around the table of this feast, promises to us that Paul’s death is not the end of Paul’s life.
We know that one day we will meet again, joining Paul and all those whom we love, at a heavenly banquet that I imagine will look something like the rickety table of a Parisian cafe: open to the street, welcoming anyone who passes by, piled high with croissants and wine. And as God wipes the tears from our eyes, Paul will march with us tomorrow, and every year to come, through the lives of all of us, all of the people Paul welcomed and loved. Amen.