It was the music. Lee, the musician and all his family musicians and musicians he knew...The music was glorious and plenteous.
I thought, so you could know Lee better, I'd share my homily from his funeral.
Lee’s Sermon (September 3, 2016) St. Paul’s/St. James, New Haven
I chose the gospel today—the discussion between Thomas and Jesus about where Jesus is going and how the disciples know where he is going—because of all the Biblical characters, Lee reminded me most of Thomas. Lee, like Thomas, would be the one raising his hand and saying, “Hold on, Jesus! We don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
Lee was a Thomas kind of guy….
A sense of urgency.
That’s what I remember from my first ever encounter with Lee Howard—a sense of urgency.
Since he was a Southerner, I had expected him to be slow moving, slow talking, laid back. But not Lee….
Whenever I was in his presence, I felt a ‘buzz’, a kinetic energy. Eating lunch with him in his apartment, which I often did, I would feel like I was in a bubble while Lee was in motion, talking non-stop, having more to say than time to say it, bringing out plates and glasses, food and drink from the jumble of his living space. Urgency.
Until the last years of his life, when thoughts and speech and movement slowed down on him—until then there was this…”urgency” about him.
But now that I think about it, maybe the right word is “passion”. That’s more accurate I think. My experience of Lee was on his ‘passion’—for music, for people, for ideas, for life.
That sounds right. The Lee Howard I knew was a person of ‘passion’.
I would watch him work with the choir. It was like he was juggling one more ball than he should have been but he kept them all going through his strength of will.
I know he was passionate about music…no question there.
And he was also passionate about people—about his family, his children, his friends, his fellow musicians, his ex-wife.
In my 41 years of ordained ministry I’ve seen lots of divorces. And in my experience, one of the things involved in the divorce agreement—besides money and property—was ‘the church’.
In every divorce I’ve known about, one of the couple got “the church”.
Not so for Lee and Hanne.
I’ve thought about that a lot over the years. How both of them held on to St. Paul’s. I don’t imagine I’ll ever figure it out, but it gives me hope.
Lee was passionate about his children. Helen, Lee Jay and John came up in most every conversation we ever had—even if we were supposedly talking about the music for Lent!
It has been a couple of decades or more since I had a close relationship with Lee. We were on different journeys. But we did share the road for over 5 years. And when I look back on that time, what I remember about Lee was his ‘passion’.
Lee’s journey is over now. But I know his passion lives on in those he loved. And his passion lives on in the music we hear this day, played in his honor.
The words of the Burial Office and the Eucharist are full of hope and life and possibility. I give thanks for that. And the priest, at a funeral, wears white—the color of Easter, not the color of mourning. We Christians are called to believe that Death is not ‘the last word’. Death is the ‘penultimate’ word (I believe Lee would appreciate having “penultimate” being part of his funeral sermon! He had a passion for words). The LAST WORD we say today in prayer and music and liturgy is HOPE and PROMISE and LIFE.
St. Francis of Assisi once wrote, “Death is not a door that closes, but a door that opens and we walk in all new”.
That is our hope and prayer for Lee this day. Even though Death seems to be a closed door that keeps us from those we love—our prayer and hope for Lee is that the door of Death opened and he walked in ‘all new’ into the presence of the One who loved him best of all. All new. All new. All new and full of passion. (I'm sure he and God will have some words about the heavenly choir....)