Thinking Out Loud

June 3, 2019

Again Remembering Rachel Held Evans

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:36 am

Nadia Bolz-Weber delivers the sermon at the funeral for Rachel Held Evans on June 1. YouTube screenshot via Religion News Service.

Abraham doubted. Job doubted. Peter doubted. Martha doubted. Even Jesus cried out, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” Condemning people who are thoughtful about their faith, who doubt & who wrestle & who cry out with questions, is legalism from the pit of hell.

Oh there are times I really miss living with absolute certainty, never questioning anything I believed or anything my pastor said, or any of my interpretations or biases or ideas. It was easier then. But maybe God doesn’t want easy.
– Rachel Held Evans, January, 2018

Yesterday I either watched or listened to all of the 1¾ hour video on YouTube of the funeral for Rachel Held Evans, as it had been streamed live the day before. I know I’ve already covered this topic when Rachel’s death was announced, but I can’t help returning.

I won’t embed those here as we did last time, but just note some highlights. If you want to find the original for unlinked quotations, try my Twitter feed. I unashamedly retweeted about ten of them.

Friend Jeff Chu wrote,

…The family asked for a funeral, not a celebration of life. Though ecumenical, the liturgy is based on the Episcopal one to honor Rachel’s adopted tradition. We gather to mourn and grieve, to look toward resurrection hope, and to worship. 

Religion News Service confirmed, “The service was ecumenical but drew from the Episcopal Church’s funeral liturgy, Held Evans’ adopted church.”

A podcast host I’m not familiar with, Amy Sullivan, wrote:

This is like our version of the Billy Graham funeral except that Rachel was 50 years younger and it is, in Rachel’s words, “a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at [God’s] table.”

I’m still pondering the comparison — not the Billy to Rachel comparison, but rather the funeral to funeral comparison — because both impacted different cultures, but both for the cause of the same Lord. Two very significant moments for two unique demographics; two subsets of Christian culture.

Writer Jonathan Martin said,

I don’t really have words for how holy this was. The atmosphere was dense with God—the weight of grace and grief, of Spirit crackling through the room between us.

Author Sarah Bessey, who participated in the liturgy, wrote,

It was a testimony to Rachel’s life to stand in a crowded (packed!) room and know this rowdy, deep, diverse, never-would-have-found-each-other-without-her community all showed up in Chattanooga, just so we could say goodbye together and to love her family. 

Rachel’s sister Amanda, who gave a Eulogy and performed a song — one that she had written for Rachel but never sung for her — tweeted:

How will I remember her? And what will I remember most? Hopefully, the wide-eyed wonder of our childhood. And the long history of love that only sisters share. I don’t have to remember …because she is a part of me. 

I hope that song can be posted at some point in the future with a proper recording. The audio for the live stream was very poor any time there was anything involving music.

Husband Dan posted on her blog:

…I want to be just a bit more like the person I see reflected back in my edited self. The person Rachel saw in me. She made me better than I was before I met her. She left the world better than how she found it. For that I will always be grateful.

Singer Audrey Assad also participated,

I have a crying hangover from [remembering Rachel] at her funeral today. And I’m filled with absolute gratitude that I got to come and say goodbye.

Shane Claiborne wrote,

After saying goodbye to [Rachel] today, mom & I watched the sunset for her birthday. I told her the best present I can imagine giving her is a set of Rachel’s books. (My mom is new to RHE). As sure as the sun will rise again, Rachel lives.

The anon Twitter account, Unvirtuous Abbey posted,

Watching people you’ve followed for years on twitter as they grieve a sister and testify to her life was a surreal yet powerful reminder that community is real. Seeing her family in the front pew was heartbreaking. 

Jeff Chu’s prayer include this:

God who is ridiculous, inexplicable love: Help us to know, feel, and embody that love, radiating it out into a nation and a world that desperately need it. As Rachel had posted over her desk, our job is to tell the truth—and the truth is that this world isn’t the just, kind, righteous place of flourishing for all people, all creatures, that you would have it be. We pray against all forms of hate, disdain, and neglect, and we pray for all who have unfairly suffered its consequences—for women, for refugees and immigrants, for people of color, for LGBTQ people, for disabled people, for poor people, for the unseen, for the unheard. Inspire us to be women of valor, men of valor, people of valor—living out our faith, cultivating hope, and shining love on all around us, as Rachel did.

Although I’ve had some recent reasons for concern regarding the ministry of Nadia Bolz-Weber, her sermons are always right on the mark and her delivering the funeral sermon — something not announced prior — was no exception. Several have asked her to post the text. 

Carina Julig at Word and Way reported that Sarah Bessey and Nadia Bolz-Weber “displayed the tattoos they got in advance of the service. Those tattoos read, ‘eshet chayil,’ or ‘woman of valor’ in Hebrew, a phrase from the Bible that Held Evans popularized.”

Yesterday, instead of our regular devotional post at Christianity 201, I included some assorted elements from the liturgy. You can find those here. For a link to the full text of the Requiem Eucharist or a link to the full video, click here. But I do want to include the Benediction here. The final paragraph is Rachel’s own words:

Blessed are the agnostics. Blessed are they who doubt. Blessed are those who have nothing to offer. Blessed are the preschoolers who cut in line at communion. Blessed are the poor in spirit. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.

Blessed are those whom no one else notices. The kids who sit alone at middle-school lunch tables. The laundry guys at the hospital. The sex workers and the night-shift street sweepers. The closeted. The teens who have to figure out ways to hide the new cuts on their arms. Blessed are the meek. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.

Blessed are they who have loved enough to know what loss feels like. Blessed are the mothers of the miscarried. Blessed are they who can’t fall apart because they have to keep it together for everyone else. Blessed are those who “still aren’t over it yet.” Blessed are those who mourn.You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.

I imagine Jesus standing here blessing us because that is our Lord’s nature. This Jesus cried at his friend’s tomb, turned the other cheek, and forgave those who hung him on a cross. He was God’s Beatitude— God’s blessing to the weak in a world that admires only the strong.

Jesus invites us into a story bigger than ourselves and our imaginations, yet we all get to tell that story with the scandalous particularity of this moment and this place. We are storytelling creatures because we are fashioned in the image of a storytelling God. May we never neglect that gift. May we never lose our love for telling the story. Amen.

 

 

 

 

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