An impressive eight-page program was handed to all of the attendees as they entered the celebration of life for Debi Lester. As the Parish Administrator for Christ the King Anglican Church of Albuquerque, Debi had created many programs like this for families who had held funerals there.
Today, church members returned the favor with a beautiful document that laid out all the elements of The Burial of the Dead: Rite Two. Each section featured an illuminated capital letter: The Collect; Opening Hymn “I Will Sing of My Redeemer”; From the Old Testament; Psalm 23; From the New Testament; The Gospel Hymn “The Good Shepherd”; The Gospel; Reflections from the Family; Homily: The Very Rev. Pete Falk; Apostles’ Creed; Prayers of the People; The Peace; Offertory “Take Heart My Friend”; The Great Thanksgiving; Communion Music; Post Communion Prayer; Commendation; The Blessing; Closing Hymn “For All The Saints”; and Dismissal.
A number of clergy from Anglican churches in New Mexico came to the celebration of her life. The Very Rev. Pete Falk, now at Wellsprings, an Anglican Church, used to work with Debi at Christ the King Church, and she facilitated his family’s move from Canada to Albuquerque. The Rev. Canon Dan Klooster, interim rector at Christ the King, The Rev. Deacon Bill Lock and well-known Christian musician Fernando Ortega also played roles in the service.
The Rev. Canon Dan Klooster recited the Collect, an opening prayer: “O God of grace and glory, we remember before you this day our sister Debi. We thank you for giving her to us, her family and friends, to know and to love as a companion on our earthly pilgrimage. In your boundless compassion, console us who mourn. Give us faith to see in death the gate of eternal life, so that in quiet confidence we may continue our course on earth, until, by your call, we are reunited with those who have gone before; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
The readings from the Old Testament were Job 19:21-27a and Isaiah 61:1-3:
Have pity on me, have pity on me, O you my friends,
for the hand of God has touched me!
Why do you, like God, pursue me,
never satisfied with my flesh?
“O that my words were written down!
O that they were inscribed in a book!
O that with an iron pen and with lead
they were engraved on a rock forever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”
The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion–
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the LORD, to display his glory.
Everyone recited together the Psalm 23 (The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.), followed by readings from 1 Corinthians:
In fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.
So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body.
For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
The Gospel reading came from John 10:11-16 and John 14:1-6:
Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away– and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”
Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
During Reflections from the Family, Debi’s brother Paul spoke about her. “Debi did things really well, not haphazardly,” he said. “When God put her in the administrative position in the church, that’s where God meant her to be.” Not only did Debi work at Christ the King Anglican Church, she also held similar positions at St. Mrks on the Mesa Episcopal Church in Albuquerque and Christ the King Episcopal Church in Lakeland, Florida.
Paul described her as a great sister, a role model, a friend, and a Type A personality, which drew knowing chuckles from the audience. He said she was in charge growing up. “Ask her, she’d tell you,” he said. “Debi would brighten your day.”
The obituary described her as a woman of strong faith, fun loving, adventurous, charming and comforting to all who knew her. She enjoyed traveling and the adventures she would find along the way. She loved New Mexico, having moved here with her husband Art in 1991. They were married for 26 years. She enjoyed sunrises, sunsets, moons and star-filled nights.
Paul shared a poem, actually the lyrics to a song, “Beyond the Sunset” by Hank Williams:
Should you go first and I remain, to walk the road alone
I’ll live in memory’s garden dear, with happy days we’ve known
In spring I’ll wait for roses red, when faith the lilacs bloom
And in early fall when brown leaves fall,
I’ll catch a glimpse of you
Should you go first and I remain, for battles to be fought
Each thing you’ve touched along the way, will be a hallowed spot
I’ll hear your voice I’ll see your smile
Though blindly I may grope
The memory of your helping hand, will buoy me on with hope
Beyond the sunset oh blissful morning
When with our Savior, heaven is begun
Earth’s toiling ended, oh glorious dawning
Beyond the sunset when day is done
Should you go first and I remain, to finish with the scroll
No lessening shadows shall ever creep in
To make this life seem droll
We’ve known so much of happiness, we’ve had our cup of joy
And memory is one gift of God, that death cannot destroy
I want to know each step you take, that I may walk the same
For someday down that lonely road, you’ll hear me call your name
Should you go first and I remain, one thing I’ll have you do
Walk slowly down that long long path, for soon I’ll follow you
Debi’s death at 56 followed a brief battle with lung cancer caused by exposure to second-hand smoke throughout her life. She hadn’t been feeling well most of the year, and by the time the cancer was diagnosed in late May, it was already stage four. Many were stunned by the quickness of her health’s decline.
In the Homily presented by the Very Rev. Pete Falk, he spoke about memories of Debi as a colleague and what the Scriptures had to say about what everyone was going through with her loss. He first met her in 2003 when she handled all the details of a complicated move for he and his family to come to Albuquerque from a small town in Canada. “She was a wonderful manager, an organized person, and fun to be around,” he said.
She started the delightful traditions of “Elevensies,” an 11:00 a.m. tea time with coffee, tea and cakes. You could hear her great laugh all the way down the hall. She was also a great encourager who loved life. She helped all the church’s families put together funerals, many of them unexpected. “She had a tender heart for her ministry, being there for people in need,” he said. “Debi liked to say ‘What comes up, comes out.’ It’s weird that she’s not here. She was the one who put together these services. I think she’d be proud.”
“Debi knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus Christ was her Lord and Savior and her purpose in life,” he said. He turned to the Scriptures, noting Job and his suffering while still proclaiming I know my Redeemer lives and will see God face to face. Isaiah’s passage promises no more mourning and that a new order has come.
He talked about the shepherd passages from John and the 23rd Psalm. “We’re in the valley of the shadow of death all the time. We never know when death will strike,” he said. “Yet we fear no evil, for thou art with me. With death nearby, God is still with us… We get through the valley of the shadow of death as a family and a church community. Everyone suffers and we offer each other a level of comfort and care.”
“The Christian hope is death isn’t the end of the story. Life continues beyond the grave. We’ll receive a new body and the dead shall be raised imperishable. We shall be changed and achieve victory over death through our Lord Jesus Christ. Our hope is in the good shepherd who laid down his life for us, that we may have life abundantly.”
“We are here to say goodbye to Debi for a time, not for forever. She did not leave at a time of our choosing, but of God’s choosing. She’s on the next stage of the journey,” he said. As he finished the homily, he spoke to the urn holding Debi’s ashes, “Goodbye, Debi. We’ll see you again.”
The rest of the service reminded me of a Catholic Mass. The Apostles’ Creed, the Prayers of the People, the sharing of “Peace be with you” with our neighbors, and the preparation of the Eucharist and service of Communion all looked familiar from other services I’ve attended. Some took the host and sipped from the communal cup. Others, to protect compromised immune systems, dipped the host in the wine.
During Communion the song “Give Me Jesus” was performed by Fernando Ortega, a Christian musician who has won two Dove Awards. He used to work with Debi at Christ the King Anglican Church and they were friends. Here is the rendition of the song as he performed it at a memorial tribute for Ruth Bell Graham, Billy Graham’s wife.
During the Commendation, the Celebrant held his hand over the urn and led this prayer, where the people joined in (noted in bold type).
Give rest, O Christ, to your servant Debi with your saints, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting. You only are immortal, the creator and maker of mankind; and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and to earth shall we return. For so did you ordain when you created me saying, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
Give rest, O Christ, to your servant Debi with your saints, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.
Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant Debi. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, 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.
After the Priestly Blessing and the closing hymn, everyone was invited to a luncheon reception in the social hall, where the family greeted and received condolences from all who attended. If you have stories or memories to share about Debi, feel free to post in the comments section below.