Isaiah 25:6-9, Revelation 21:1-7, John 11:32-44
“See the home of God is among mortals….” Revelation 21:3
There is a cost to love. For when we love another, a spouse, a child, parent, sister, brother, friend, when they die or merely move away, we grieve. This year in our community of faith there’s been deep sorrow for a dozen of our brothers and sisters as well as many other beloved ones have died. We will name them as we gather with all the saints, the choir of angels and the whole host of heaven, at the feast of victory of Lord where the divide between heaven and earth melts away and everyone is washed clean by the blood of the Lamb. But there is also joy, surprising joy even and perhaps especially in the midst of sorrow. Note I didn’t say happiness, but joy, which is deeper, richer and almost always appears when we least expected it. Through each of our saints God shared that unexpected joy with us. Let’s sing the first verse of the When the Saints Go Marching In:
Oh, when the saints go marching in, oh, when the saints go marching in,
O Lord, I want to be in that number when the saints go marching in.
William Kunsch, Bill, died three days after Christmas last year and so we sang Christmas carols at his funeral including his favorite: “Good Christian Friends, Rejoice.” He loved to sing. Often when Pastor Kochenderfer and I brought him and his beloved wife Kate, communion, he’d spontaneously break into song, remembering every word of a hymn the St. John’s Crusader’s Men’s Bible Class sang 60 years ago. He loved his family, the outdoors, hunting and fishing and cutting the grass here at St. John’s – the piece behind the church that he called “the back forty.” And though he knew sorrow, he also knew that Jesus Christ was born too save and that gave him joy. For Bill’s song of joy and sadness, let us thank God.
Lynn Bechtel died the same day Bill did. Diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s, her death of a long time coming and the final few weeks were very difficult. She met her husband Don when they were in high school – their first date – a Halloween Party. Later she’d delight in making the most creative Halloween costumes for their three children. Children were her joy – she developed a child-care co-op and was the president of the East Pikeland PTA. Blessed with a wonderful imagination she was always creating things for her friends and family. She loved Christmas and always went over budget, enthusiastically sharing the joy of the gift of our Savoir. For Lynn, her creativity and love, let us thank God.
Herman “Chuck” Villwock became part of St. John’s when he and his wife Lee moved to Spring Mills to be closer to his daughter Diane Sitkowski and her family. Chuck and Lee were leaders at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Cherry Hill and both had deep and abiding faith. A veteran of World War II and an engineer Chuck’s was blessed analytical mind and a great sense of humor. He delighted in his family and especially enjoyed when his great-grand-daughter Rosie visited and brought along with her unabashed and contagious joy and Chuck laughed. For Chuck, his dedication and joy, let us thank God!
Oh, when the Lord in glory comes, oh, when the Lord in glory comes,
O Lord, I want to be in that number when the Lord in glory comes.
Jean Yanchek would be clapping to this! She was a wise and faithful woman, who lived with a dash of panache, a flair of style and a zest of spirit. She also knew struggles and sorrow, especially when her beloved husband Martin died. But they did not have the last word, God did and it was always a word of hope and love. I remember a visit during mid-November with her, her grandson Mark and his dog Peanut. President Trump had just been elected and both Mark and Jean were concerned about the upcoming family Thanksgiving Dinner and the variety of political views that would be sitting side by side at the table. After talking about this, Jean quipped, “Well, we’ll just have to love each other anyway!” For Jean’s wisdom and joy, let us thank God!
Anna Gruici was the little sister of her husband Emmett’s best friend. They met when she was 12, but it wasn’t until she was 16 that he noticed she was the most beautiful young woman in the room at a square dance in the church basement. He asked her to be his partner and in good time high up in the crown of the statue of Liberty he got on bended knee asked her to marry him. Their life together rich and full, but also knew deep sorrow when their beloved daughter Sandy died from cancer. Anna never quite forgave God for Sandy’s death, yet there were times when joy overflowed, especially when Emmett sang, “You are my sunshine” to her and the light of the Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, shined through. For Anna and her faith-filled honesty, let us thank God.
Oh, when the new world is revealed, oh, when the new world is revealed,
O Lord, I want to be in that number when the new world is revealed.
John Gatlos was a man of lament. He grew up hard. As a child he was sent out to pick up coal along the railroad tracks to help keep his family warm. He worked hard – at the steel mill and then after three terrible years of searching for a job, at Penco. Like Job, John was bold in his complaint to God and others, and yet there were moments when he was surprised by pure joy – by his beloved wife Rose, their children Lee and John and his grand-daughter Nicole, and in his final years, by God coming to him in the bread and wine of Holy Communion and giving him peace. For John who dared to voice lament, let us thanks to God.
Jeannie Brancato loved to the core of her being. She went through life leading with her heart, determined to enjoy each moment. Even in the face of death, that of her parents, her sister Shirley, her brother-in-law Raymond, and her beloved son, Jason, she persisted in love, revealed in her deep grief and profound hope. That hope brought her through lung disease, and just when she was about to take her final breathe, through a lung transplant. All seemed to be well, but then there was another surgery which resulted in paralysis. So then more rehab, more hospitalizations, until she decided it was time to go home – to her family and then just a few days later, to God. For Jeannie and her persistent, courageous love, let us thank God. Verse 4:
Oh, when they gather round the throne,
oh, when they gather round the throne,
O Lord, I want to be in that number when they gather round the throne.
Gloria Hadfield was often troubled that she wasn’t good enough to deserve God’s love. Once during a visit, we read the passage from Revelation that we heard as our second reading today. She wondered if she was worthy. I don’t remember my exact words, but I said, something like, “It’s a gift, no one is worthy – a gift, a place, Jesus prepares for us.” “Really?” she asked. “Really.” “For me, too?” “For you too.” Then the worry slipped from her face as she smiled the most glorious smile. For the love Gloria so freely shared with her family and friends and for her joyous smile, let us thank God.
Lois Craven, mother of Donna Thompson, spent most of her life singing in the Choir at Holy Apostles and the Mediator Episcopal Church in West Philadelphia where she was known for her solos. After her husband Robert died, she went to live with Donna and her husband Ed. When Ed died away six years ago, Lois was her daughter’s rock, walking with her through grief and sorrow. Together with their faithful dog Riley and good friend Carolyn, they experienced joy again. For Lois, now singing in the choir of angels, let us thank God.
Gary Dries was the youngest the St. John’s saints to die this past year. At 62, he was determined to live each day to its fullest even in the face of cancer. He got up, went to work, put in a full day, came home to his beloved wife Donna up until that last week or so of his life. Gary was a hard worker with a fine mind, skilled hands and an ability to solve the most difficult of problems. For over a decade he served as a Phoenixville fire fighter protecting our community day and night. He worked as a tow truck driver and through him God gave countless drivers who were broken-down aside of the road a Good Samaritan, an angel in the darkness. For Gary, who was always there when most needed, let us thank God. Verse 5:
Oh, when they crown him King of kings,
oh, when they crown him King of kings,
O Lord, I want to be in that number when they crown him King of kings.
Dottie Casavecchia couldn’t wait to see the face of Jesus. That’s what she told her daughter Tina and I in the ICU, just after making the decision to go into hospice care. “I want to see Jesus.” The joy of Dottie was that all throughout her life, she saw Jesus everywhere — in her family, in you and me, her congregation, in her fellow residents at the Episcopal House where she was a community leader and in the lost and forgotten ones Now that doesn’t mean she did not see us clearly, with our faults and failures, but then she would gently call us to a higher purpose, to let go of our fear, and to love more completely. Let us thank God, for Dottie, for in her we saw the face, the love, of Jesus.
Mary Jane Frees depended upon the great faithfulness of God every day of her life. God was with her and she knew it. God carried her through times of unexpected joy and deep sorrow. Here at St. John’s she served a leader in Social Ministry, always working to help us be generous and strategic in our giving and service. She and her husband Dave, also helped us to see God’s Kingdom come here on earth as it is in heaven. Every third Saturday in May, Mary Jane set out a feast in their kitchen at 201 Main Street, while Dave made sure the beer was cold and plentiful. Chairs lined up on the sidewalk for the Dogwood Parade — Marching bands, beauty queens, fire engines, boy and girl scouts, waving politicians, strutting mummers, all a stream of countless hosts…anticipating that hallelujah day. For Mary Jane and all the saints, let us thank God. Please stand for the final verse:
And on that hallelujah day, and on that hallelujah day,
O Lord, I want to be in that number on that hallelujah day.
Isaiah 25:6-9, Revelation 21:1-7, John 11:32-44