The Funeral of John G. Satter (12 July 2019)
JoAnn A. Post
John used to run. For fun. “Running for fun” is a concept that eludes me. Not my life. He told me once that when the family lived in Dwight, and John was a busy local attorney, he would rise early to go for a run. Not the way you and I might. Most of us would lace up our shoes, and trot sleepily out the front door, making a loop that started and ended at home. But not John.
Everything to John was a test, a challenge.
Instead of loping out the front door in the early morning hours, he would ask his wife to drive him miles out into the country, just a little farther than he could comfortably run. And then he would run home.
Even if it hurt, even if it was hard. John had given himself no choice but to run home.
Because everything to John was a test, a challenge.
As John grew older, his running days long behind him, he was becoming a sort of test and challenge of his own. But I don’t think he meant to be difficult. In my family, we maintain that as we age, we simply become “more.” John was becoming “more” himself all the time. Intellectually curious. Personally disciplined. Confident in his own abilities. Always testing assumptions. His death in the early morning hours Monday took us all by surprise. We had imagined he might die as he had lived—arguing the merits to his last breath.
John lived large, and respected others who did, too.
His favorite composers? Mahler. Beethoven. Bombastic musicians whose compositions require cannons and choirs and drama.
His favorite sport? Debate. “I take issue with . . .”
His favorite theologian? Martin Luther, a contentious 16th century monk.
His favorite biblical writer? Paul, a relentless 1st century convert.
Do you see a pattern emerging here? Bombastic. Questioning. Contentious. Relentless.
How fitting that our dear brother John, who planned much of today’s liturgy, chose readings that question, that push, that challenge our assumptions.
From Micah: “What does the Lord require of you?”
From James: “What is true religion?
From Paul: “Which is better? To live or to die?”
And from Jesus himself, in the gospel of John, who, in a dark exchange with neophyte disciples revealed the depth of the challenge before him:
“Now my soul is troubled,” Jesus said.
“Now is the judgement of this world.”
“Now is the light shining, though it looks like only darkness.”
Though most of us seek comfort and certainty and simplicity, John pursued truth and integrity. Always testing. Always challenging. Always wondering. Even in matters of faith.
And, as passionately as he lived, so passionately did he love.
John was of the generation of my parents, who held us to ridiculously high standards, who reserved displays of affection for special occasions, who loved us without ever saying the words. But he did love you, his children and grandchildren. He loved you fiercely, perhaps not always telling you, but the gallery of family photos in his apartment revealed his heart. You surrounded him, comforted him, inspired him both night and day.
And as passionately as he worked and argued and planned and loved, so passionately was he loved.
By you. By those of us who were his sparring partners and friends. And most certainly, by God.
There were moments, in recent months, when John worried that, in the life to come, he might be judged harshly. He reported lying awake nights wondering if he could be forgiven for actions, words, decisions in his life of which he was ashamed. He worried that God might be as relentless in questioning him as John was in questioning God.
But John had no need to worry, to wonder, to lie awake. God’s love for him, for us, is passionate, fierce, relentless. God’s love is not a test or a challenge. It is a gift. In God’s love, all sins are forgiven. All wounds healed. All sorrows softened.
How fitting that God, who knows all our hearts, our desires and our fears, would call John from this life in such a gentle, kind way. John had no opportunity to question or to challenge, to take issue with God’s methods or strategy. Instead John died with a whisper, a sigh, just as the darkness of night was turning to day.
What was it Jesus said? “Believe in the light, so you may become children of light. The darkness will not overtake you.”
Jesus, ever the attorney, also said this: “Now is the judgement of this world.”
And the judgment is this:
We are loved beyond measure.
Forgiven before we ask.
Loved with a fierce tenderness.
All John’s questions have been answered.
All his running stopped.
All his wounds healed.
All his sorrow turned to joy.
Though our lives may be plagued with tests and challenges, our dying is simply a matter of taking the hand of the One who loved us first, who loves us last, who loves us even to and through death to life in light eternal.
Hymn of the Day: Precious Lord, Take my Hand