When sudden tragedy strikes, it is often a time when many of the big questions about the meaning of our lives and the universe just won’t go away. Friends of mine, Chris and Karen Burpo, recently lost their son, Scott. At Scott’s memorial service, held at St. David’s Episcopal Church, his father tackles the question: “Why are we here?”
Why are we here? We are here to celebrate the life of Scott Burpo. But…
Why are we here?
We are here because the church is Scott’s home, the church is where he was baptized, and where he was confirmed. This is the place at age 16 that he renewed the baptismal vows that his parents and God parents had said for him at his baptism. This is where he promised to put his whole faith and trust in God’s grace and love.
At his confirmation, the Bishop said this prayer:
Strengthen, O Lord, your servant Scott with your Holy Spirit;
Empower him for service;
And sustain him all the days of his life. Amen.
The Bishop’s prayer obviously worked, because Scott was empowered for service. This is the place Scott learned about service as an acolyte, as a man, and as a Christian. From an early age Scott always had a generous soul. His generosity is reflected in many of the on-line tributes I have read on social media over the last few days. One of the last pictures we have of Scott and Karen together was taken when he came up to visit us for Karen’s birthday this year. The picture was taken of the two of them with aprons on, smiling, and serving dinner to our Unidad families.
As further proof that the Bishop’s prayer worked, the Holy Spirit did “sustain him all the days of his life.” While he was not regular in his attendance lately, he did not forget what he was taught here (by Gene Jeffords, Hendree, and many others). Over the last weeks when he was not always in good spirits, we talked about God’s plan for him. He remembered that God loved him, and I know he drew strength from that as we talked.
Finally, we are here because this place meets Maya Angelou’s paraphrased definition of home:
“The safe place where we can go as we are (at any time) and not be questioned.”
Why are we here?
We are here because we all loved Scott and miss him dearly. His teachers are here. Many of his friends are here. His families, both his birth family and church family, are here.
We are here because he touched our lives in a variety of ways. His donations to people in need, his helping and supporting friends in need, and organizing his work team for volunteer clean up duty while they were on the road in Oklahoma at the time of the deadly tornado in Moore OK in 2013. In many ways he modeled Jesus in helping where and when he could.
Why are we here? We are here because we simply don’t know what else to do. Scott doesn’t need our help any more now, because he is rejoicing in heaven.
We are gathered here to together to say prayers and thanksgivings of the burial office for two reasons. First we are gathered to officially give Scott back to God and to thank him for his gift of Scott in our lives. Second we are here to care for each other and to ask God’s help for us all. Our collective presence helps each of us remember what Scott knew, which can be summarized in these words from John 5:24:
“He who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life.”
Scott heard that message here, and he believed it, and now he has eternal life. The Gospel reading today says:
“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”
So that is where Scott is now, and forevermore. But what about us? We are gathered here to give him a big send off, but we know that he is being greeted by a heavenly host of saints who are there to welcome him to his father’s house. Maybe they will be praying for us as we pray for him. In the days ahead we are left to comfort and support each other in our bereavement and our loss. We should be of that good courage that he was. And love one another like he loved us all. And rejoice with him and all of the saints in the Eucharist.
Printed with permission of Chris and Karen Burpo
April describes herself as a Red Letter Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs: The Disorderly Parable of the Epistle of James.