Romans 14:7-9, Hebrews 11:8-16, Luke 24:13-35
Memorial Service for Edwin E. Beers
Ed Beers and I had for some years given each other copies of our homilies when we asked for them. In sorting through his that I have on file, I found one dated 25 October 1987. Some other few were not dated, but I think that 25 years suggest our long friendship. It takes Ed back to the time that he surprised me by telling me that he had been shooting hoops on a UW Natatorium basketball court with friends who regularly gathered there, and it takes me back, equally surprisingly, to a time when I could still shoot in the 80s on a golf course. Those days, of course, were long gone for each of us years ago. But they show us an Ed nearly as strong and vigorous as he was when he served as a young man in the Coast Guard during the Normandy Invasion, ferrying the wounded back to Dover or less vulnerable British ports.
As he got on in years and became more vulnerable to the vagaries of age, his daughter Emily told me that his family suggested to him that it might be time to put some affairs in order. So one thing that he did was write down what he’d like this Memorial Service to include by way of Scriptural readings, psalms, and hymns. But one item that was not on his list was a request for a specific reading from the gospels. But perhaps his wanting the hymn “Sheep may safely graze / where a good shepherd keeps watch” would suggest a passage from either Luke’s or John’s gospel on the Good Shepherd. And I was told that when Ed was in the hospital, he was thinking his way through a homily on the Good Shepherd. But of course he did not live to be with us to do that homily. I substituted for Ed last Sunday, presenting a homily on John’s gospel with a reference to Luke’s. I told Lynne Smith that I was incapable of doing yet another and different homily on the same subject with less than a week between them. She wisely suggested that we might turn our minds to Jesus’ joining his disciples on their way to Emmaus as they discussed his crucifixion and resurrection and then ate with him as he broke bread and drank wine with them.
The wisdom in this suggestion is that it gives us the two things Ed Beers did so unassumingly and with such sensitivity and love these many years at St. Benedict Center and Holy Wisdom Monastery. He opened the meaning of the Scriptures to us as no one else could, and he presided at the liturgy and broke bread and blessed wine with us once we became an ecumenical community. Both his interpretative genius and his presiding presence encapsulate his sense of the indispensable importance of the Eucharist to life itself. Happily he spoke on the Eucharist more than once because he found it universal, all encompassing: the New Jerusalem, so to speak.
Ed studied the Book of Isaiah with noted Scripture scholar Walter Bruggemann and came to see Isaiah finding Jerusalem to be the center of the universe—a “reconstructed ideal for all humanity” because the prophet saw it as “a paradigm for a redeemed world which includes all,” not just the descendents of Abraham. This prompted him to ask Bruggemann what he saw as the Christian equivalent of such a Jerusalem. After some moments of deliberation, the answer came back: the Eucharist. This strikes me as having made a lasting effect on Ed, who elucidated the meaning of this choice time and again.
How, one asks, does one determine what is the center of the universe? By determining what gives life to all. That’s what Ed did. He set the meaning of the Eucharist in the context of feeding stories like that of the banquet that Levi gives and Jesus attends in spite of the opprobrium heaped upon such a despised tax collector. Jesus by his action is saying that taking such a meal with such a person is moving in a new direction. Jesus is also moved to take a meal with Simon the Pharisee at which a woman of the streets appears and bathes his feet with precious ointments and also washes them with her tears before drying them with her hair. At this meal a marginalized but repentant woman gains Jesus’s forgiveness; thus the feeding story becomes one of reconciliation and a new beginning. But Jesus can be host as well as guest and does so by feeding thousands with five loaves and two fish. Here we see that any meal that Jesus hosts will fill all to the full and there will still be leftovers for those who were not able to attend.
And when we come to the Last Supper that the Eucharist reenacts to this very day, Ed had this to say:
Jesus holds up the cup, this fluid of forgiveness, not for anyone with a short litany of minor sins to confess. Jesus is addressing people who are going to turn him in. In the eucharist in the upper room Judas is present, Peter won’t know him; the others will abandon him, swear they don’t know him. He’s offering a new covenant to those who will not remain committed to him. It’s as if he’s forgiving them in advance. I know you’ll turn from me. I know you’ll reject me. You can do that to me, he’s saying, but I won’t do that to you. Let my life become your life through this cup of an everlasting covenant. This is the compassion of God, entering us as we lift the cup; reminding us that we no longer live for ourselves but for one another, not just people we get along with easily or [people whom we] naturally like. Where’s the virtue in that?
This, I think, is Ed Beers’ most important message to us. He strove in his life to make that clear by his presiding amongst us and by his elucidating the Scriptures for us. Should we not say of Ed Beers what the disciples on their way to Emmaus said after Jesus had left them:
“Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us . . . while he was opening the scriptures to us?”