Updated: Mar 9
Isaiah 11:1-10; Matthew 25: 31-40
The Rev'd Cameron Partridge
February 18, 2023
Good afternoon, welcome, and thank you. Welcome to all of you, here at St. Aidan’s and from farther reaches online, to this communal celebration of the life of Roger Wolcott, extraordinary human being who made an impact everywhere he went, particularly upon the hearts of all of us gathered today. Welcome and thank you. Thank you for being present in Roger’s life in all the varied ways that you have, for being part of the extraordinary and extensive community that Roger, together with his beloved Margie, was especially talented at gathering over the years. Thank you for gathering to bear witness to the Good News that Roger manifested in so many ways.
When I say Good News, the letters are capitalized—Good News as in a life that embodied and proclaimed the Gospel: God healing and renewing us in Jesus Christ, reconciling us to Godself and to one another, that we might carry out what the Apostle Paul called the ministry of reconciliation, of restoration (2 Corinthians 5:17-20). Roger was someone who truly sought to live the Gospel. He took the Gospel seriously enough to wrestle with it, to ask deep, probing questions about it, to be Eucharistically nurtured and nourished by it, to fundamentally orient his life around it. We chose this afternoon’s Gospel passage, the awesome vision of the Son of Humanity coming in glory (Matthew 25:31-40) – not necessarily a common text for such a service – because of how its just vision reflects what Roger, together with Margie, was all about. As the Son of Humanity says, welcoming the sheep: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me…. Truly I tell you, just as you did [these things] to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:35-36, 40). Constance Abbey, the intentional community and street ministry Roger and Margie established in Memphis, is an emblem of this commitment to live the Gospel. We are renewing our baptismal covenant in today’s service – yet another unusual move in such a service – to underline this fundamental commitment that Roger so strongly expressed.
And in yet another unusual text choice today, we heard an Advent passage, from the prophet Isaiah – the eleventh chapter of “Isayah, from the beginning,” as we heard Roger distinctively read it. Of course, we chose this passage in part because we had this recording of Roger reading the passage at our 8 AM service on December 4th, two days before his bicycle accident. But more than simply because he happened to have read it, I advocated for its inclusion today because of a process of reflection that this passage kicked off that week. I should say wrestling as much as reflection, because, frankly, it included struggle. A group of us were attending our monthly Bible study “Wrestling with the Scriptures” when, we would soon learn, Roger’s accident happened on a South Bay bike path. As we reeled in the days that followed, I kept coming back to this passage. I heard – and actually watched – Roger reading it, and I began to pray with it.
Days later, I stood at the bedside of a very alert Roger and asked if he remembered reading this passage at St. Aidan’s. Yes, he nodded eagerly. I asked if he would like me to read it to him again. Again, he strongly nodded, yes. And so I began, “a shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse…”I looked up, and he was mouthing the words with me. When I finished, I told him that I so appreciated that he, Roger, had proclaimed that passage to St. Aidan’s, including to me, that early December morning. That I had been reflecting upon it ever since. I shared that I heard it as a proclamation of deep hope issued to help God’s people anticipate Good News even as their surrounding context didn’t exactly lend itself to that hope. It wasn’t a hope that denied devastation but very much acknowledged it and somehow, in God’s deep mystery, grew out of it. He nodded vigorously. I told him he had embodied Advent hope that morning, and that as I thought about the witness of his ministry in and far beyond the St. Aidan’s community, his proclamation of that particular phrasing of the Good News felt very right. I don’t claim to fully understand this in some easily translatable way, I said (and you know Roger wasn’t one for B.S. if I’d suggested otherwise), but I feel strongly that it remains true: even now, even now you continue to embody that ministry, that Advent hope, to proclaim in your very being: “a shoot shall grow out of the stump of Jesse.” I invited us to stay with that phrase, that image, in the days to come. To be rooted in God, whatever unfolded, trusting in the new creation God has brought, is bringing, will bring.
Even now, I hear Roger reading not simply that opening phrase but that whole Isaiah passage, delight twinkling in his eyes at its paradoxical images of God’s deep Shalom. I hear, see, and rejoice, even amid sadness. Because Roger’s life and witness calls all of us to proclaim Good News, to be grounded in the hope to which God calls us. To be a people of prayer and community, nourished by membership in Christ’s body through the Eucharist, through gathering with beloveds around good food, and especially by expanding the circle, sharing abundantly. To be a people who wrestle with Scripture and don’t accept easy answers to the hardest questions. To step up to the plate and truly make a difference in people’s lives, especially “the least of these who are members of my family.” To ultimately release ourselves into God’s loving arms, trusting in the foundational mystery of our faith, the promise of resurrection life emerging out of death. Thanks be to God for the life and witness, and regardless of season, the ever-Advent hope, embodied by Roger Wolcott.