1 Corinthians 15:51-52 — “Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”
The Memorial Worship Service at North Scottsdale United Methodist Church on Wednesday, June 13 began with a rousing rendition of “Sing with All the Saints in Glory” from The United Methodist Hymnal. With this the Western Jurisdictional Conference gathered to celebrate the lives of those who have crossed the ultimate threshold, from this life to the next. It is a solemn and celebratory service similar to those that open annual conference gatherings across the denomination.
Bishop Warner Brown opened the service in prayer and worshippers were blessed by the gift of music from “Hands of Joy — Sign Language Choir” from St. Matthew UMC of Mesa, Arizona.
The scripture text was the resurrection story from Matthew 28 and Bishop Grant Hagiya proclaimed the message “Bursting out of the Tomb!”
Said Bishop Hagiya, “The symptom of the deeper malaise in our church is our fear of death. We have built into the Christian theology an embracing of last things, but we take pains to avoid death.”
Bishop Hagiya personally knew those to be memorialized this night and shared stories about their life and their gifts to the world: Bishop Jack Tuell, Kathleen Thomas-Sano, The Rev. Dr. Cornish R. Rogers, Sally Brown Geis, Dean Daily Hollomon, Leanne Misao Nakanishi, The Rev. Dr. Jane Tews, and Pastor Diana Martha Williams. “All of those we memorialize today exemplify this fullness of life; engaged in life right to the very end. They, unlike our church at times, did not try to avoid death.”
He went on to talk about knowing the joy of the resurrection and how we can have what Wesley called, “The Happy Death” – embracing both death and resurrection. “Such is needed for the United Methodist Church at this time,” he said. “Resurrection must become the lynchpin of our theological vision. We need to be engaged to the very end.”
For Hagiya, Jesus’ resurrection in Matthew is so dramatic that nothing could keep him in the tomb. Jesus breaks forth and proclaims that he will break out of any theological box that we put him in. “We think we can keep Jesus in the tomb of our fears of death, but Jesus bursts out of the tomb and lives, resurrected, to the life eternal … Don’t we know God will break out of the rocks of anything we try to seal God into? Either we live as an Easter people … or we shrink back in fear and trembling and admit defeat.”
And with this message of embracing life until the end and of the power of Christ to burst forth from any and all tombs, we moved to memorialize those who had gone before us, recognizing that they, like us, are Easter people.
“On this day we gather to worship God and to remember those who have died in the Lord. Each person bears the image of God. The life they lived, the love that was shared, has forever touched our hearts and minds. We offer God’s love and support to one another as we remember and give thanks.”
Names were lifted up. Bells were rung. Stories were told. And those gathered celebrated the Sacrament of Holy Communion; breaking bread with the saints in glory.
Before the closing song, members of the Jurisdiction were sent into the world with the following:
“Those who have gone before us remind us that God’s work now rests in our hands … When the way is hazardous and the climb becomes a challenge, do not grow weary. Empowered by God’s Spirit, we will cross the thresholds before us together, singing praises as we go.”