Friday, September 25, 2009

celebrating Ted Kennedy

Edward Moore Kennedy, February 22, 1932 – August 25, 2009

Ted Kennedy served as the senior United States Senator from Massachusetts and came to be known as "The Lion of the Senate."

Mission Church, RoxburyHis funeral was on a rainy Saturday, 27 August 2009 at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, built by German immigrants and "since 1878" a parish church; with geographical designations like parish and ward, churches dare describe themselves as congregations especially for a particular neighborhood. In the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, Mission Church is situated amidst the have a littles and have nots, creating an apt setting for the remembrance of someone who lived his life in service to often underserved and frequently disregarded populations. I've driven past the church quite a few times, though I don't recall ever being inside.

The celebration, the liturgy, the acknowledgment of Ted Kennedy's achievements and the promise of the inbreaking Reign of Heaven began with a magnificently played and sung entrance hymn:
Holy God, we praise thy name;
Lord of all, we bow before thee;
all on earth thy scepter claim;
all in heaven above adore thee.
Infinite thy vast domain;
everlasting is thy reign.
...words to stanzas 1-4 attributed to Ignaz Franz, circa 1774; translated by Clarence Walworth, 1858 (they processed into the church singing all 8 stanzas).

Scripture readings included Wisdom 3:1-9; Psalm 72 with the recurrent response, "Justice shall flourish in his time in fullness of peace forever"; Romans 8:28-31 – "nothing can separate us from the love of God"; and for the gospel, Matthew 25 – "whatever you did, for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me."

Beginning with covering the casket in a white pall (technically a baptismal garment), the baptismal imagery was telling and pervasive: baptizing us into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God clothes us in forgiven, sinless righteousness; each of the baptized wears a baptismal calling to a life of justice, a call to a journey to the cross if – "when" – necessary; a call to speak and to act prophetically against the political, economic, social, and cultural establishments. In the Spirit God calls and enables us to talk the talk and walk the walk. Figuring out and discerning a specific career path can be tough, scary, and difficult, but we all receive the same baptismal call to lives of justice and equality, to living the Magnificat...Luke 1:51-55
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.
Although the Kennedy clan originated from tribal cultures of ethnic Ireland and religious Rome that back in those days were not welcomed or accepted in elite residential or vacation communities in this country, these days commentators often call them America's Royalty, and they have become essentially a dynasty. In Greg Ferguson's words:
The ground is level at the foot of the cross...
We all are equal in the light of the cross
For the love of God is given freely to all
The ground is level, at the foot of the cross

Men and women, younger and older
Every culture, every color, every tongue
No more labels, no separation
As we stand forgiven at the cross
We all are one ...

Doesn’t matter your social position
Doesn’t matter if you’re rich or if you’re poor
Race or privilege, tribe or tradition
At the cross of Christ it can’t divide us anymore
Baptized into Christ, the Kennedys are God's royalty; the baptismal hymn from 1 Peter 2:9-10 would have been perfect for a reading at the service for Ted Kennedy:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
The grandeur and sweep of the memorial service and media coverage were worthy of a head of state—of royalty! Ted Kennedy lived and served in the traditions of liberal, activist politics and liberal, activist, prophetic Christianity. He was a coalition-building, conciliatory politician who initiated and sponsored legislation of the people, from the people and for the people. And during the funeral liturgy, the celebrating of Holy Communion, the Lord's Supper, taken, blessed, broken and given, the Eucharist, a feast of thanksgiving, reconciliation, and life of all creation, for all creation.

Ted Kennedy's schooner Mya provided a wonderful icon of the sometimes rocky and rough, occasionally surprisingly smooth and glassy passages everyone needs to navigate through life. Water is the basic substance of creation, the essence of life: Water Is Life! We live baptized into water, drowned into our first death and raised to second birth of bounded freedom in Christ, and we need to trust God, the One Who really is the Baptizer.

On the Friday before the funeral Ted Kennedy lay in state at the Kennedy Presidential Library, located right next door to the University of Massachusetts at Boston, an urban school for non-traditional students, many of whom go on to help change their part of the world.

Psalm 72:4a insists, "He shall defend the afflicted among the people."

President Barack Obama quoted Ted Kennedy: The work begins anew. The hope rises again. And the dream lives on. Indeed it does, and it will:

Infinite Thy vast domain; everlasting is Thy reign...the dream lives on!


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  2. Beautiful words and great innspiration. Loved the scriptures they used. I really prefer when pastors thougthfully use text appropriate to the individual as oppossed to the "typical" funeral passages that everyone use.


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