Farewell to a Friend: Diane Knippers
This afternoon, on a grey and rainy day, several hundred people gathered at Truro Episcopal Church in Fairfax, Virginia to say farewell to our friend, Diane Knippers. Her husband, Ed, is an artist, and one of his remarkable paintings graced the cover of the bulletins handed out at the sanctuary entry. This one was of Jesus, hanging on the cross; underneath, it read, “By his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:56
Faith McDonnell and Diane,
protesting Chinese President Jiang Zemin
As we sat waiting the beginning of the service, the storm clouds were clearly building outside the windows. How appropriate I thought. A grey day. A sad day.
Even so, the bulletin was entitled, “Celebration of a Life,” and indeed it was. It was such a day of sorrow — losing someone like Diane so young; she was only 53 — but the service was so beautiful, and God was so very present, that it was, in a way, Diane’s last gift to those of us privileged to have known her and to have been there today.
While Ed’s beautiful painting set the tone of worship, the text inside the cover reminded us that Jesus weeps with us when we grieve:
The liturgy for the dead is an Easter liturgy. It finds all its meaning in the resurrection. Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we, too, shall be raised.
The liturgy, therefore, is characterized by joy, in the certainty that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
This joy, however, does not make human grief unchristian. The very love we have for each other in Christ brings deep sorrow when we are parted by death. Jesus himself wept at the grave of his friend. So while we rejoice that one we love has entered into the nearer presence of our Lord, we sorrow in sympathy with those who mourn. Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we, too, shall be raised.
As Dan Snyder, a tenor, sang the gorgeous “The Holy City” (“Jerusalem! Jerusalem! Lift up your gates and sing,
Hosanna in the highest! Hosanna to your King!”), followed by the stately chords of “How Firm a Foundation,” I felt the traditions of my faith, and the shared rituals of worship, drawing me close in community to a place of comfort.
And, then, as Helen Rhea Stumbo read, with breaking voice, Lamentations 3:22-26 and 31-33, more importantly, I was drawn to the reassurance that, yes, my Redeemer liveth:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men.
We lose something of great, and irreplaceable, value, when we too carelessly throw over the traditions and rituals that guide and sustain us, both in times of sorrow and in joy. When the organ rolled into “Crown Him With Many Crowns,” my memory was crowded with the remembered voices of my grandparents leading our extended family in singing hymns, my grandmother at the piano, my grandfather belting out his deep, resonant baritone, standing at her side, aunts and uncles around the room, children scattered around the floor.
Outside the sanctuary the rain was building. The service moved on. The Reverend Canon Martyn Minns gave a homily, reminding us of Diane’s dedication to the work God had called her to do. She was a sinner, he said. But a sister, a saint, and a soldier too. He recalled that in the military, when a standard-bearer falls, someone must pick it up. He challenged us to stand if we were willing — and breaking from the prepared program, led us in singing “Onward Christian Soldiers.”
So wonderfully politically incorrect. No one sings that hymn anymore! It was the perfect way to memorialize a woman who fought slavery and atrocities in the Sudan and human rights abuses in China. . .
Episcopalians serve communion at funerals — one by one, people of all different denominations filed forward, in a holy sacrament that binds us together as an extended family of faith.
Finally, the service began drawing to a close, and Reverend Minns rose for the final prayer:
“Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant, Diane.” he began. “Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold . . .
God answered. Outside the storm had built to a crescendo. Thunder crashed in a powerful rumble.
“. . . a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive her into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen.”