This past autumn when I visited Jim in the hospital, while he was struggling physically and emotionally, he asked me to jot down of few notes of what he would want during his funeral. A bit reluctantly I obliged, because I personally did not want to ponder the potential passing of my dear friend. But I immediately loved his first ask of me: “I want it to be like Barbara Bush’s funeral service, especially that part from Ecclesiastes.” I can’t say I am surprised that he would draw inspiration from a First Lady. And you know what, since then I have gone back and watched bits and pieces of Barbara’s funeral, and it was absolutely beautiful. It was exquisite. It was stunning.
And Jim, well he was a man who loved such beauty in all of its various shapes and sizes—from beloved family heirlooms (like Aunt Bessie’s Bible or Grandma Ruth’s jewelry), to the artistry of song and dance in a musical (especially one that featured Judy Garland); from his grand collection of elephants throughout his condo, to his care for the splendor of this sanctuary (our church community’s and Jim’s own spiritual home); from the form and substance of the human body itself, to the elegance and transcendence found in the Eucharistic meal, the Body of Christ that we share together. Jim’s life was one surrounded by beauty, immersed in beauty.
Yet, it does not mean that Jim’s life was easy, was rosie all of the time. Like our reading from Ecclesiastes, in Jim’s own earthly pilgrimage he encountered, “a time to tear down, and a time to build;/ time to weep, and a time to laugh;/ a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (3:3-4). He was a man who encountered times of great suffering. Yet from that suffering, he created such beauty. He was a testimony to God’s own grace and redemption.
Jim was a recovering alcoholic for over thirty years, a transition that did not come lightly, but through diligence, and prayer, and faith, he stayed sober. Not only that, but he was able to mentor others struggling with addiction. He was able to be a light for others in dark places. He was able to bring beauty into a broken world. Even in our own brokenness today, in our grief and sadness, in this time of mourning there is beauty.
Just look at all of these gathered here today, huddled together on screens to celebrate in Jim’s resurrection, to testify to his lasting legacy of love upon their lives, to acknowledge the beauty that he brought to their own earthly story.
I personally, I do not pretend to know all of Jim’s story, to know all of his suffering or all of his joy. I know there are those here today who were blessed to love and be loved by Jim for decades. Yet I can testify, without a shadow of a doubt, that this man, James Hooper, brought beauty into my own life, in some of the simplest ways—from early Sunday morning conversations, to subtly sly remarks before Vestry meetings, to a shared cinnamon roll dinner on a dark and stormy December night, as we waited together and discerned whether or not to postpone our Christmas Eve endeavor.
I miss him so much. Yet, I also know that our beloved Jim now walks in beauty, in the paradise of eternity with God; in the Father’s house with many dwelling places. It is new life that he was ready for, and that he claimed even in this earthly life. As emulated in his love of his own family history, he saw himself in a long line of saints who had come before him, of whom he knew he would be reunited. Jim saw himself as part of a larger whole of holy men and women who had not been perfect (by any stretch of the imagination), but who had loved their Lord their God to the best of their human capabilities.
Because of this love, because of this devotion, because of this faithful discipleship, I have no doubt that our beloved Jim not only rests in peace, but has risen in glory. I have no doubt that our beloved Jim is reunited with family and friends, and I hope he has had a singalong or two with Judy herself. I have no doubt hat our beloved friend now resides in the everlasting arms of God.
Praise the Lord Almighty, t this is not the end for Jim Hooper, but is only the beginning as he returns to his Maker: the one that was, and is, and always shall be, and to whom one day we also will return. Praise the Lord, Jim finally has made his way home.