A Homily in Remembrance of Casey Fernandez
May 14, 2022
Good morning, and welcome. This morning we gather to honor the life of Casey Fernandez, longtime neighbor and resident of Diamond Heights who died this past March, to lift up his life and heart to the God who brought him into this world. We at St. Aidan’s have known him for many years, particularly through the Friday Food Pantry community. People who have been here longer than I will remember more than I do, and perhaps they will share from that memory later in our service. I met Casey soon after I began at St. Aidan’s in 2016, as he was then part of the afternoon volunteer crew of the Food Pantry. I noticed that he tended to circle the edges of the communal fray. During the pre-distribution meeting he would sit in that low slung, rolling chair in the doorway of the Wajnert Room, occasionally chiming in, offering a different viewpoint, while his little dog Pally scooted around the office. He would assist shoppers who needed help getting their groceries from the tables to their bag or basket and would assist them to their cars. I have heard of others in our neighborhood who received assistance from him with various projects. Not having known Casey for long, I did not witness the difficult period more than ten years ago when he lost his longtime housing in this neighborhood and began living in his van. It was obviously deeply painful for him and for people around him. I know that many stepped in to assist and support in a variety of ways, including some of us at St. Aidan’s. Losing Casey in mid-March was painful and sad, and I know I have continued to carry that sadness in the days since.
And so as a pastor in this community, part of what I want to do in this moment is to name that sadness, whatever it may look like for you. Grieving can be complicated and take many forms. I also want to say that in a city in which the unhoused can be portrayed as nameless, depersonalized and dehumanized, Casey’s humanity refuses that. He was a particular human being, gifted and flawed as we each are, with a whole arc of experiences and stories. Casey was loved by God beyond the telling.
The gospel passage we have heard (John 21:1-19) shares that love through an Easter lens. In our Sunday morning worship we heard this story from John’s gospel two weeks ago, and our vestry (or governing board), spent time with it on retreat. It is one of the stories of Jesus’ post resurrection appearances to the disciples. The disciples had all gone through the great ordeal of Jesus’ arrest and execution. They had thought all was lost, and they were overcome by grief. And then Jesus had emerged from death alive, marked by all he had endured, yet vibrantly, physically and spiritually living, standing before them, very much himself yet somehow different. The story we heard is his third resurrection appearance in John. As I shared two weeks ago, I love the calm depth of this story. I love how without fanfare or even a hint of triumphalism, Jesus stands on the shore, naming for the disciples the seeming futility of their repeated efforts and inviting them to continue, refreshed. I love how the disciples (Peter in particular) are shown here in all their fumbling, flawed, enthusiastic humanity, running to greet their risen savior. And I love how Jesus quietly offers them broiled fish, including their own freshly caught offerings, saying, “come and have breakfast.” That is what I imagine Jesus saying to Casey. Come, have breakfast. And as we will hear later in the prayer of Communion, "take, eat, this is my body, given for you." Come. Join the song of angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. Be nourished at this shore. Step fully into the mystery of newness of life.
Now, as I hear it, the latter part of this passage issues a call to us this morning. It is the call to love. After Jesus’ breakfast invitation, Jesus engages Peter in a striking back and forth. Three times Jesus asks, “Do you love me?” and Peter responds in various versions of, “yes, you know that I love you!” Peter feels hurt by the repetition of the questions, as I can imagine I would feel as well, evoking as they do the three painful times Peter had denied Jesus prior to his death. But making Peter feel guilty is not Jesus’ point. The point is to be invited, called once again into love in all its challenge. Peter is being urged to walk in what the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church Michael Curry refers to as the “way of love.” Practice in all things the love of God that can see through hurt, that seeks to restore what is broken, to find what is lost, to build community even when that is unspeakably difficult. Live with compassion for one another, and along the way begin to imagine new and further possibilities, a net cast to the other side of the proverbial boat, now teaming with fish.
This morning the life of Casey, framed through our gospel passage, invites us into an expansive expression of love, love that sees each of us for who we are in all our humanity and calls us to live communal compassion. I wonder, in what new ways might we be invited to live out that compassion together? What might it look like for us to cast our nets to the other side of the boat, knowing that somehow, no matter how little we may know along the way about the impact of our efforts, we will be sustained at the shore. Knowing that at the last, we will hear an invitation to refreshment, to love: “come and have breakfast.” Together.