We are here today to celebrate the life and mourn the death of Stephen Wai Seng Mark, and to commend him into the care of our gracious and loving God.
It seems appropriate that today is All Saints’ Sunday, the day each year that we remember those we love who are no longer with us on earth, but whose love surrounds us still. On this Sunday, we read from the altar the names of all we love who have died. This morning Steve’s name was the first one read.
Steve would probably laugh to be called a saint. But one of the things saints do is recognize that life is a gift from God, and live it to the fullest. And Steve certainly did that.
Elizabeth remembers Steve as full of soul. He loved soul music, especially the R&B band Tower of Power, from his hometown of Oakland, California. He loved to croon along with their song, “You’re Still a Young Man.”
Steve also had great rhythm, playing an instrument, singing, and especially on the dance floor. “He could feel the beat,” Elizabeth says. “He instinctively knew the Calypso rhythm of 1-2/1-2-3, while I had to keep counting it out loud.”
Steve also had the appropriate hip swagger for hula. His mother Winnie, who was born in Honolulu, passed along her love of hula and Hawaiian music to her sons. Steve and his brothers performed a carefully choreographed hula for their parents’ 50th wedding anniversary celebration.
That rhythm also made Steve a great electric bass player. He was in bands that played the Bay Area, including New Year’s Eve gigs
In addition to his soulful music and dancing, Steve had many other diverse interests. His love of scuba diving prompted Elizabeth to become certified so that they could continue adventures under the sea.
He loved skiing and helped Elizabeth become a better downhill skier as they spent their honeymoon in Colorado skiing at Copper Mountain and A-Basin.
He loved camping and all the different gadgets and tools that went along with it. In fact, his love of anything outdoors prompted Elizabeth to choose “Oh beautiful for spacious skies” as one of our hymns today.
Steve also loved to fix and figure out things, and to help others. He was a volunteer Emergency Responder when he worked in the petrochemicals industry. He was always looking for ways to be of service.
Above all else, Steve loved his family.
He was the quintessential big brother to Darryl, defending him from bullies as children, teaching him to drive as teenagers, and becoming great friends as adults.
He was a devoted husband to Elizabeth, her rock in times of illness and tragedy in her own life.
The picture Elizabeth chose for the back of the service sheet is a metaphor for Steve’s place in her life. In it, you see Steve as he was helping to belay during rock climbing.
“It sums up Steve in that to belay is to secure a person with rope and to ensure the climber’s safety,” she says. “Whether we were hiking or bike riding, Steve was the ‘sweep’ person who made sure that no one got lost or left behind – always looking out for me and for others. That was just the nature of his soul.”
Above all else, Steve was devoted father to Connor, Dadda to his Bud. When Elizabeth went back to work after Connor was born, Steve took a month of paternity leave. He was a patient teacher who could explain how things worked and enjoyed transferring his knowledge from father to son.
As Connor grew older, his activities became Steve’s volunteer opportunities. He loved Cub Scout campouts, building Soap Box Derby cars, being the photographer for the Chamblee Charter High School Band, where Connor is a section leader of the “Pit Percussion group.”
Steve loved doing those things because he took such joy in being with Connor. His eyes would light up with joy and pride when he talked about time spent with his Bud.
Connor, Elizabeth, Darryl — remember the great love Steve has for each of you, and remember also, as scripture tells us, love never dies. Your love for him and his for you will always be alive, will always be with you, part of the very core of your being. Love is stronger than death.
Finally, Steve was also a person of great faith. He was a lifelong Episcopalian, active in the church as a child and youth, and devoted to it as an adult.
It was our great fortune to have him at St. Dunstan’s. He was a current member of our vestry, serving his second term on that governing board. He was a faithful member of the choir, whose fellow members are wearing black ribbons today to show the great grief and void they feel with his absence.
Steve was a lector, reading scripture in worship, and in charge of recruiting and training our acolytes. He was the webmaster of our website, which until three weeks ago was the most up-to-date church website you’ve ever seen. He developed our online directory and kept it current and was the administrator of our Facebook page.
He was our go-to guy when we needed an audio or video recording. He regularly spent the night here when we host homeless families for a week, as we will next week. He was a staple at the all-night BBQ cooking in the fall, and our chief pancake chef, usually with Connor by his side.
In other words, he was an integral part of every aspect of life in this parish, and his death has devastated this congregation, as it has devastated all the other communities in which he was a part..
When we are confronted with a tragedy like Steve’s sudden and unexpected death we all ask why?
Why did this happen? Why was a life so full, the life of a person so loved, and so depended on, cut so short?
Scientists may offer explanations of why a cancer begins, may trace its route through the body, and explain how it causes death.
But that kind of technical explanation does not satisfy the question of why. What we are really asking is why would a loving God allow this to happen?
Three years of seminary does not teach the answer to that question. Ultimately, there is no entirely satisfactory answer.
But I can tell you what is not the answer. I can tell you that Steve’s untimely death was not part of some divine grand master plan, that this was not something God willed for Steve from the moment of Steve’s birth.
What I do know is that God’s heart breaks along with Elizabeth’s and Connor’s and all of us who love Steve, and that God’s love will surround you always.
And what we believe as people of faith is that death is not the end. A prayer later in our service puts it this way – “for to your people, Lord, life is changed, not ended.”
Steve’s life has changed, not ended.
Of course, we can’t know exactly what that change means. As our scripture reading today says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.”
That’s why Paul says we walk by faith, not by sight.
But scripture gives us glimpses of that changed life.
One of the most prevalent scriptural images of the life that awaits us all is one we heard in today’s reading from Isaiah, that of a great feast or banquet.
It’s a meal where the table is groaning from all the rich food upon it. A banquet where the glasses filled with well-aged wine are never empty. A feast where all are welcome, and where all have been restored to wholeness and health.
That is one of the reasons why communion, which our prayer book calls “a foretaste of that heavenly banquet,” is always a part of funeral services in the Episcopal Church.
Communion is also a way we are joined with those who are already enjoying the heavenly feast. We believe that at this altar we are surrounded by what scripture calls that great cloud of witnesses, those whom we love who have gone before us to that place Christ has prepared for us all.
On this All Saints’ Sunday, Steve has taken his place among those witnesses, the great communion of saints, still surrounding his family and friends with love, restored to wholeness and health.
That is why we say that even at the grave, even in our sorrow and deep grief, even through our tears we make our song, “Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!”
And now Steve, may the angels lead you into paradise.
May all the saints rise up to greet you.
And may you be welcomed into the arms of God who created you, loves you, restores you, and welcomes you home as a beloved child of God.