In Celebration of the Life of John Spencer Palmer

Saturday, August 10, 2013
St. Patrick’s Episcopal Parish, Washington DC
Lamentations 3: 22-26, 31-33; 2 Corinthians 4: 16-5:9; John 11: 21-27
The Rev. Margot D. Critchfield


Good afternoon.  My name is Margot Critchfield and I’m a recovering news producer turned Episcopal priest.  John’s wife, Nancy, and I have been friends since we were 22-year old Desk Assistants at the Washington Bureau of NBC  back in the day when cigarette smoke filled the newsroom air; big, boisterous wire machines spewed out news on endless rolls of manila paper; and the stately stature of David Brinkley strode the halls of the bureau with the elegance and élan of our colorful corporate mascot, the peacock.

It didn’t take long for Nancy to be promoted from Desk Assistant to Production Assistant for Nightly News.  It was the perfect gig for this brainiac of a girl with the easy-going good nature and incredible sense of humor:  fielding frantic calls from New York, calming crazed correspondents, and pacifying panicked producers. She was awesome.

Apparently our dashing, and somewhat mysterious, new White House correspondent thought so too.  I still maintain that they fell in love long before their first date, because they were clearly having way too much fun on the phone for two people faxing scripts back and forth under intense deadline.

In any event, John did ask Nancy on a date–and by her version of events, she and I then decided to do a little “investigative reporting” of her suitor, and broke into the bureau’s personnel office to sneak a peak at John’s file!

When Nancy told this story at Molly and Lee’s wedding last spring, I assumed she had me confused with someone else, because I actually have no memory of this event whatsoever!  But earlier this week Ellen McKeefe regaled my husband Don with the same story, so I guess now that it’s been second sourced I have to concede it’s true:  Nancy and I were very naughty!

I’m not sure what we were looking for in that file, or what we found, but I do know that after that first date, Nancy and John were in love.  And I mean crazy in love. And that love just kept growing deeper, and spreading wider, and  refreshing itself with new life and new energy as it nourished more and more other lives with its amazing, openhearted generosity of spirit.

In my current line of work, we call that a God thing.  Because God is the One who makes that kind of love possible.  So just as the wonderful remembrances we heard a few minutes ago evoked such a powerful sense of who John was, I want to take a minute or two now to evoke for you a sense of the all-loving God in whose presence John is now living—the God who, despite our over- attachment to unreasonably rational, post-enlightenment thinking, has inexplicably, mysteriously, but nonetheless definitively restored John to new life and made him whole; who has granted him entrance into what we call in our Episcopal prayer book, “the land of light and joy…where sorrow and pain are no more.”   The God in whom John is now living new life beyond our wildest imaginings, and in whom he will continue to grow—in love and service and joy… the God who continues to love him into being in the eternity of now.

Now, I realize not everyone here believes in God.  But that’s okay, because I’m pretty sure God believes in you. In fact I’ll go further:  God not only believes in you, God is wildly, crazily, passionately in love with you with the same kind of open-hearted generosity of spirit with which he graced Nancy and John’s love—only more so.  God loves you no matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done or not done, and no matter where you are in your spiritual or religious journey.

And because I happen to call myself a Christian, I’ll go even further still and say that as a Christian I believe God loves all of us so much that he actually became one of us — and not just to understand us better or to teach us how to live like responsible adults, but to absorb all the hatred and evil the human species could possibly hurl at him–to quite literally die of it— so he could then overcome it once and for all by outdoing it.

Crazy, huh?  But that’s pretty much the gist of this afternoon’s gospel.  Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

That, in a nutshell, is what is unique to the faith Christians proclaim: That as outrageous as it may sound, because of the life, death and resurrection of a radically counter-cultural first century Jew named Jesus, death has no power over us.  Because Jesus overcame it—with sheer, unadulterated love… unspeakably powerful, healing, and reconciling love…steadfast love…love you can trust. The kind of love that our human love—no matter how potent it is—can only hint at.

So why must people suffer?  Why must they die?” Why, indeed, if God is so loving, does grief have to be such hard and painful work?

I honestly don’t know. But what I do know to the very core of my being, and trust with all of my heart, is that God doesn’t cause illness or suffering. God “does not willingly grieve or afflict anyone.” It wasn’t God’s will for John to get sick. It wasn’t God’s will for John to die, for Nancy to be widowed, or for Molly, Carter, and Hope to lose their father!

God’s will for all of us is that we be healthy and whole and free as he created us to be.  And when we’re not, it breaks God’s heart.  God grieves and weeps with us.

You know, Jesus taught us to pray one prayer, and only one prayer.  He taught us to pray: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done,” and I’m pretty sure he taught us that prayer because we live in a world where God’s kingdom hasn’t yet come and God’s will isn’t always done.

Theologians say the Kingdom of God is “already, but not yet.”  It is “already” because in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus it has already broken into our world, but it is “not yet” because it is not yet fully realized “on earth as it is in heaven.”   It is “already” because through Jesus, God promises us life in an entirely new and incomparably better way—life where we are healed, made whole, and fully the creatures God created us to be.  But it is “not yet,” because the only way for us to experience such unimaginably abundant life now is by passing from death into the new life we’re promised.

Nancy…beautiful precious girls who John adored… make no mistake:  John has made that passage from death to new life. John lives now in the joy of God’s kingdom realized. He is alive—and I mean really alive—in the never-failing love of God.

May each of you experience the profoundly healing power of that love as your broken hearts grieve this terrible loss.  May each of you remember that you need never grieve alone.  And may each of us present in this church today honor John’s life by being bearers of God’s  love in the lives of others, right here and right now, on earth as in heaven.  Amen.


1 Comment

Filed under Sermons by Margot

One response to “In Celebration of the Life of John Spencer Palmer

  1. Lois Dobyns

    John was a classmate at Dobyns Bennett High School for both me and my husband Jim..We always knew he was special and meant for bigger things than Kingsport had to offer..Indeed he was and he more than lived up to our expectations..John.used all the wonderful gifts God him to share with the world. However, he never forgot his roots and when he came home he was just one of us.
    I know God has received him warmly and said ” well done, good and faithful
    servant”..We pay tribute to a life well lived.
    Jim and Lois Dobyns


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