Clothed in White

SJF • Burial of Riley Kenneth Francis • Tobias S Haller BSG

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.”+
Who are these, robed in white? This is one of the many questions that were addressed to Saint John the Divine in his vision of the world to come, a question asked, like all of them, by someone who already knew the answer. And when John politely pointed that out, the answer was given: “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple.”

I draw upon this text today, because we are marking the death of one who, clothed in white, stood here in this church, before this altar, this earthly shadow of the heavenly throne of God, and worshiped him, perhaps not day and night, but certainly week by week quite literally for decades. The Sundays on which Ken Francis was not here, either in the choir or in the sanctuary, were few and far between. He stood at my left hand, as he stood at the side of Father Basil Law, and Fathers Mercer, Pfaff, Scott, Lau, and Boatright, and the many other priests who have had the privilege of sharing in that ministry. He stood at the side of Bishop Taylor, whom we are blessed to have with us today, and at the side of Bishop Moore, and Sisk, and Dennis, and Martin, and others who have served in this diocese and beyond.

Some of these priests and bishops have gone before, just souls made perfect by the one who is perfect, and they too, we fervently trust, now are clothed in white and stand before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple. And I trust and hope that they number among them our friend and colleague Riley Kenneth Francis.

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My trust and hope is not simply based on the idea that people get what they deserve; that a good man like Ken will simply find his reward because he deserved it; that a good and faithful servant will hear those words of comfort from his master, “Enter your master’s joy.” No, my friends, my trust and hope is based on something a bit firmer than that, it is based on the trust I place in our Lord Jesus Christ, who said, “Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away.”

There is a powerful comfort in these words, in the assurance that our future fate does not rest primarily upon how well we’ve done in minding our P’s and Q’s, but rather on how much we have loved our Lord and each other. This is, after all, what he told us he wanted us to do — to love him with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, and to love each other as much as we love ourselves, doing to others as we would be done by. That’s it. That’s how we come to Christ — there is no other way. Remember Jesus doesn’t say to us, It’s my way or the highway. He says, I am the highway! And anyone who follows that royal road, he will never turn away.

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We are here today, some of us perhaps in a church — any church — for the first time in a while. Bear in mind the importance of what you do, and how best you might honor the man we commemorate here, the man we commend to the God he served so faithfully, week by week, here in this choir, and there by that altar. He was no stranger to God, and God will be no stranger to him. He is not one of those to whom God might say, “Why don’t you ever call?” He is not one of those to whom God might say, “Long time no see.” He is certainly not one of those to whom God might say, indeed has promised to say, “I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.”

Rather he is one who served his Lord and God and sought him out, who worshiped him here on earth and will rejoice to worship him in Heaven. He is one who relied on the firm promise of God that he will never drive away one who seeks him out.

You may remember the story of Saint Thomas More, who was condemned to death during the reign of Henry VIII over his disagreement with the king about his divorce and second marriage, and the succession to the English throne. Perhaps you saw the film of some years ago, A Man for All Seasons. As Thomas stood on the scaffold he kept the tradition of giving the executioner a tip — this had the practical consequence of helping ensure that he would chop off your head with a clean, neat cut, rather than hacking at you. As Thomas gave him the coin, he said, “Do not fear, you send me to God.” One of the clergy standing by said, “Are you so sure, Sir Thomas?” And Thomas replied, “He will not refuse one who is so eager to go to him.”

Thomas, you see, rested his hope upon that same promise, that anyone who comes to God, he will never drive away. I’m sure some of you remember how the old hymn goes: “The soul that to Jesus hath fled for repose, I will not, I will not desert to its foes; that soul, though all hell shall endeavor to shake, I’ll never, no, never, no, never forsake.”

That is the promise my friends, the promise from Jesus himself. “What more can he say than to you he hath said, to you that for refuge to Jesus hath fled.”

There is nothing more to say. Nothing more than his word is needed, my friends. If you don’t trust him, who can you trust? If you do not place your hope in him, in whom can you hope? Jesus’ word was good enough for Saint Thomas More, it was good enough for Saint John the Divine, was good enough for Ken Francis, and it’s good enough for me! Is it good enough for you? I hope it is. I hope that this day will not simply be a day that marks the end of the life of a good friend, but a day that renews your connection with an old friend, a friend who has longed to hear from you, a friend who has longed to see you in his house, and at his table. You know who I mean.

Our hope and trust is that our Lord will welcome Ken Francis into the eternal dwellings. May we too — all of us — one day rejoice to hear the words of welcome, the words of comfort, when we rise at the last day may we enter together into his temple where wewill hunger no more, and thirst no more; where the sun will not strike us, nor any scorching heat; where the lamb will be our shepherd and will lead us to the water of life and wipe every tear from our eyes; and together, clothed in white, with all the blessed ones who have gone before and who shall yet come upon this blessed earth, we will worship him night and day before his throne, and give him glory for ever and ever.+