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July 8, 2017 - The Rev. Linda Spiers

Kenny Woods Memorial Service


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Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 121; Rom 8:14-19, 34-35, 37-39; John 11:21-27
The Rev. Linda Spiers
Kenneth E. Woods Memorial Service – July 8, 2017         Christ Church Cathedral

         Today’s service is nearly all the plan of the maestro himself. Kenny gave the gift of a letter that very clearly stated his last wishes. He specified the hymns he loved, prayers he loved including one attributed to Albert Schweitzer for our friends the animals. We all know how much Kenny loved his Maine Coon cats and all animals—including the turkeys that used to wander regularly through his back yard. I remember Kenny saying that he and Canon Jones said a prayer together at night—“O Lord, support us all the day long, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then in thy mercy, grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest and peace at the last. Amen.” You’ll hear both of those prayers in today’s liturgy.
         Kenny also requested, and I quote: “A thousand alleluias and great shouts of Easter—we are a resurrection people!” Yes, indeed, we are a resurrection people! Hence our Trinity choir sang an Easter fanfare that Kenny loved from H. W. Parker’s Light’s Glittering Morn Bedecks the Sky.
         Alleluia, Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.
         Let me hear it again.
Alleluia, Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.
Easter was a favorite season of Kenny’s and yet I believe he loved all of the church seasons. He knew them intimately because they were in his Irish bones. He knew the hymns and the anthems that would enrich the lessons—hymns that would tell the story or lift the heart or deepen the soul’s connection to God.
This summer the Episcopal bishops and others have embarked on a 40-day pilgrimage that began on May 31 in the northern part of New Hampshire, close to the Canadian border. Pilgrims will have paddled the Connecticut River from that northern point all the way down to Long Island Sound. The Cathedral hosted these pilgrims the night of July 4. The pilgrimage ends tomorrow and was called the River of Life Pilgrimage. There was a prayer book put together for the paddling pilgrims to use and for those who chose to pray with them. Morning Prayer each day began with the Prayer of St. Patrick. Here’s a part of that prayer.
I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me;
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s hosts to save me
Afar and near, Alone or in a multitude.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me. Amen.

I think this prayer would have been one that would speak to Kenny and his Irish bones. I am sure he knew this prayer, and I thought of him as I have prayed it. He would have immediately gone to the musical version of it—Saint Patrick’s Breastplate—and would have played it many times. “Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.” Kenny knew God was with him in and through all things—in all aspects of living—in the endless ways this prayer suggests.
When I think of Kenny, I think of friends. Certainly all of you here today are his family and his friends. The many who came to his wake last night are also his family and friends. From a very early age his gift of music opened the door to friends he had most all of his life—the great composers he loved and cherished from a wide variety of periods and styles of music. They were friends to Kenny. They were all part of a great cloud of witnesses that surrounded Kenny and inspired him and touched the depth of his soul. Sacred music throughout time set his soul and his fingers and his feet on fire. When he played, the Holy Spirit moved in and through his music like no other. He was not only technically gifted and also the depth of his faith came through every stroke of a key.
Anglican missionary Florence Allshorn once said, “The Holy Spirit is not something that stands by itself, something that we can pray for and have as a thing in itself, it is born from Love and is of Love, all its treasurers are of Love, and if we are to believe our Gospels it is received by Love and Love only.” Kenny knew that God of Love. He had a taste of that Love in this life with his family and friends and, of course, with his beloved Canon Jones.
I think he also saw Biblical characters as friends, for he was able to enter into the stories playfully and seriously—people like Mary and Martha and Lazarus. Kenny would be right there with Martha saying, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” (John 11:27). He knew these Biblical characters as friends because he knew the stories and he could enliven them and enrich them with music. He knew just the right hymns and just the right anthem from ancient or contemporary composers to add to our liturgy—to make it full and rich and meaningful.
Someone like Augustine was a friend who taught him singing is praying twice. You could hear that in his music. Prayers were a lifeline for Kenny. He treasured the prayers from friends and family and knew they worked somehow. He would ask for prayers and was comforted by them.
He learned social justice from the friend he had in Jesus—how to care for and reach out to all who were on the margins of society. He carried in his heart those who were left out or left behind or pushed out or excluded in any way. He rejoiced in the One who turned tables upside down and turned the world right side up. He found deep friendship in Jesus and hungered for more.
In a moment’s notice Kenny could move from the sacred into weaving an arrangement of contemporary artists like the Beatles or endless others. His impersonations of singers would delight and bring laughter that caused the sides to ache! His versatility on piano and organ and cello brought joy beyond joy.
This is but a slice of the Kenny Woods I came to know and love. You each have a slice of this man who was fully human. He would be the first to tell you about how human he was. He didn’t walk on water and yet he had impact on many lives. Remember the stories, cherish them, and share them with one another.
In the passage from Romans Paul speaks of his conviction that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus and that we are all God’s children. In these words Paul continues elaborating on suffering and hope that he began in chapter 5. Paul uses the Socratic method of asking questions to get his point across. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will it be trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? A slightly different version of the Bible includes distress in that list of things that can separate us from the love of Christ. Life is good. Someone has made a lot of money on those three words as a logo. You’ll see them on clothing, on hats, on cars, on backpacks, on mugs. Life is good; and my friends, life is hard. Life can present struggles each and every day for us.
All of these things that Paul mentions are familiar to each of us personally or to the world around us. They are things we humans confront head-on or fear. Any one of them can send us into a tailspin. Paul proclaims confidently and with great conviction that not one of them—not one of them can separate us from God’s love. He says, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39). As children of God we rejoice in that good news even in the midst of great sorrow in Kenny’s death. I imagine Kenny’s prayer would be that these words bring comfort to each of us. I am convinced that in the mystery of death, God has welcomed Kenny and revealed face to face these words he believed in life and that he’s also in the ever presence of his beloved Canon Jones. May his soul and the souls of all the departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.


Florence Allshorn, compiled by Hannah Ward and Jennifer Wild, Resources for Preaching and Worship:  Year A (Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 211.

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