Memorial Service for The Rev. Leo E. Longan, Jr.
14 September 2019
Sermon : The Rev.Brooke L. Swertfager
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
“Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died!” Wow! That took some boldness! Some chutzpah! Some audacity! I mean come on Martha, you’re talking to Jesus Christ: healer of lepers, exerciser of demons, stiller of storms! He’s one of you and your brother and sister’s best friends! Dial it back a bit, won’t ya Martha!
This scene is one of my favorites in all of Scripture. When I hear Martha confront Jesus, I want to say: “You go girl!” Because I don’t hear her meekly pleading with Jesus in a soft and weepy voice, no, I hear it as a full-throated, audacious, grief-fueled accusation. Because the kick in the gut that is death stealing away a loved one, leaves us angry and bewildered and deeply sad. And I think it did that for Martha, too. Like many people in deep grief, Martha wanted to lash out. Grief and anger often go together. Comfort comes later. Right now I feel like Martha. Maybe you do too.
Jesus reminds Martha of the hope of the resurrection of the dead on the last day. Yes, I get that, Martha says. That’s not helping me just now. She is after all, the practical one of the three siblings Mary, Martha and Lazarus. She’s the preparer of meals and the washer of dishes. But Jesus goes on: “I am the resurrection and the life, those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Jesus not only will bring about the resurrection in the last days, he gives eternal life now.
Our dear friend and colleague, Pastor Leo E. Longan Jr., known more familiarly to many of us as Jay, Jay entered life eternal back on August 28th. He was only 67 years old. Jay was a remarkable man of sooo many talents. He loved acting, art and music. He embraced beauty of all kinds. He was a devoted husband, pastor, colleague, family member and friend. And, I think I can say this with some confidence, he was a lot like Martha. That is–-he could be bold, he certainly had chutzpah, and when things demanded it, he could speak truth to power with audacity and conviction, like few among us.
God called Jay to many things. Let me tell you about just a few. He was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, but his family moved not long after and he spent most of his early life in Dallas. He attended SMU where he studied Dramatic Arts. Acting was just one of Jay’s many loves and talents. He acted in productions in high school and college. He would return every year to Dallas for a reunion with his high school theatre buddies. It was an avocation that he continued to pursue throughout his life.
Most of us know that Jay was an accomplished musician. Not only was he an excellent organist, I think he knew the specifications and details of every pipe organ on the planet! Some years back, Jay and his husband Dick, and my husband and I, took a vacation to Paris together. Every day we would go to an art museum and visit at least two churches. Jay knew them all by heart.
He also loved architecture, and would freely share his opinion of buildings and designs. For instance he referred to the Sacre Coeur basilica in Paris as “that pile of bricks on the hill” but the church of St. Julian the Poor, to him, was “a hidden gem.” The organ at San Sulpice was magnificent (indeed it was!), but the one at the Church of St. Mary Magdelene “was not right for the space.” Jay, himself, dabbled in architectural design. In fact, if you go on line, you can see the proposal submitted by Pastor Longan and Pastor Baum to the 911 Memorial design contest.
Jay loved to sing. There was never a gathering at his home, or anywhere else for that matter, that didn’t involve singing. He directed choirs, composed music for many events ranging from large synod gatherings to intimate dinner parties. While he was studying for his Master in Divinity at Yale, he especially enjoyed singing with the Russian Chorus. He was particularly enchanted by the music of the Caucausus, and was a member of the New York Georgian singing group, Supruli. We’ll hear from them a bit later. He and his husband Richard loved Georgia (of the caucasus, not the peach state)and they traveled there together several times. Their home is full of things showing their love of that country, its music and its culture. The icon on your program cover today is from Georgia’s oldest cathedral.
And of course, let’s not forget, Jay loved to cook. And, yes, he was good at that too. His recipes for carbonade al la flamande and cassoulet are fabulous. He could spatchcock a chicken in the blink of an eye. Even Martha would have been impressed.
But, having said all that, first and foremost, Jay loved Jesus Christ and his Church. Jay was not a life-long Lutheran. He came to it in a rather round-about way. Raised in a non-liturgical tradition, Jay didn’t find the answers to his spiritual questions there. His faith journey led him to a time with the Christian Scientists. His search for an authentic relationship with God then led him to investigate Catholicism. It was there that he developed his devotion to Mary, the mother of Jesus.
But it was Lutheranism that eventually called out to his Christian heart and soul. Through the Lutheran lens of Justification by grace through faith, Jay found meaning and hope and purpose in life. In Lutheranism his faith journey reached fulfillment and Pastor Longan, being Jay, wanted that to be true for everyone else as well! And so he was called to study for the ministry. Even so, his winding faith journey enabled him to remain open to new ideas, and to welcome points of view different from his own.
Later this month, on the Festival of St. Michael and all Angels, Jay would have celebrated the 29th anniversary of his ordination to the office of Word and Sacrament. He first shepherded a modest congregation in PA, just outside of Pittsburgh, during those difficult days when the steel mills shut down.
Later, Jay became the pastor at Trinity, Middle Village, that became the home base, the foundation, the stage upon which he got to live out his love for Jesus Christ. By the way, Trinity seems to be written in his stars, as Jay also served for a time as the choir master and organist at Trinity 100th Street, here in Manhattan, in the mid-80s where he made life-long friends.
In Queens, Jay served our synod as a Conference Dean, he was one of the earliest chairs of our synod’s Gay and Lesbian Commission, he was a respected colleague who could be counted on to fill in at the organ bench in a pinch, or offer support in whatever way was needed. He was known to confront unfairness or injustice head-on when he saw it. Those of us who have been on the other end of an argument with Jay know that he was a fierce, but somehow kind, debater to be reckoned with.
But it was to the people of Trinity Lutheran Church in Middle Village, that he was deeply committed. He loved his Trinity family. He spoke with passion about your faith, your willingness to wrestle with hard truths, your energy for sharing the gospel. It caused him great sorrow that he could not be present, in the end, to say good bye to all of you in person, and celebrate the wonderful years of ministry that you shared together.
The Lutheran tradition not only gave Jay a faith home, it also gave him his wonderful spouse Richard. Back in the early 80s, Jay and Dick both worked at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service at the Lutheran Council in the USA, on Park Avenue
South. Theirs was an office romance, with glances stolen across the fax machine at first. Those were the days when same sex relationships were not only frowned upon, they could cost you your job. Nevertheless, love is love is love, and Jay and Dick found in each other a love that defied society’s norms and blossomed into a relationship that lasted nearly 40 years. On June 26, 2015 Jay and Dick were “officially” married in a simple ceremony in the backyard of their cottage in New Jersey. It was an auspicious day. The banner headline of the New York Times on that day read: “Supreme Court ruling makes Same sex marriage a right nationwide.” Jay quipped: That is the best wedding gift we could have ever dreamed of. And so it was.
On the day before he died, Jay received gratefully the ministrations of our new Bishop, Bishop Paul Egensteiner. On the day he died, Jay received Holy Communion and the last rites and rituals of the church. The rites over which he presided with joy and thanksgiving, love and humility for nearly 30 years.
As his death drew near, the nurse told those of us gathered that it would be good for us to play some music for Jay. What to play, we wondered? Organ music, of course. Ah, but what composer? Bach, of course. Dick said: Jay loved Bach’s Orgelbuchlein. He used to play from it often. And so a version of the Orgelbuchlein was found on YouTube and we played it through the Iphone at Jay’s bedside.
Jay’s favorite of those pieces was “Christum wir sollen loben schon.” It is a Christmas chorale, the words sing of the miracle of Christ’s birth; that through the humble and faithful Mary, God’s promise of grace to our fallen world has been fulfilled.
As Jay’s breathing grew shallow the music played on. But then, suddenly, Dick said: Listen! Here it is. Jay’s favorite chorale. And as the singers sang: “Praise, honor and thanks be said to you, Christ, who were born from the virgin, with the Father and the Holy Spirit from now until eternity,” Jay took his last breath and joined the company of the blessed saints in heaven.
So what about Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus? Jesus said to Martha: Listen, “I am the resurrection and the life, those who believe in me, though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
And Martha said: “Yes, Lord I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” And then Jesus raised her brother Lazarus, from the dead. But
like us, Lazarus’ time on this Earth was fleeting. Struggles and sickness and death will catch up with all of us sooner or later.
Not long after his days with his dear friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus, Jesus himself suffered a humiliating and painful death on a cross. The world couldn’t abide his enormous and wide open welcome, his coloring outside the expected religious lines, his love for the poor and the oppressed. But God raised him up on the third day. And Jesus’ words rang eternally true for Martha and Mary and Lazarus, for you and for me and for all people: “I am the resurrection and the life, those who believe in me shall never die.”
The Rev. Leo E. Longan Jr., our beloved Jay, lived his life preaching and teaching this gospel. He died believing it, and will rise again believing it. It is the promise that we have now in the time of our sorrow. And it is more than enough for us as it is for Jay.
And so to Jesus Christ, together with the Father and the Holy Spirt, be all honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.
MASS OF THE RESURRECTION
The Rev. Leo E. Longan, Jr.
June 18, 1952 – August 28, 2019
September 14, 2019
Eleven o’clock in the morning
Saint Peter’s Church
619 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10022
AT THE FONT 0:22
ENTRANCE HYMN Oh, What Their Joy and Glory Must Be 1:42
PRAYER OF THE DAY 5:36
FIRST READING Lamentations 3:22-26, 31-33 6:41
PSALM 118: 1-2, 14-24 7:39
SECOND READING Revelation 22:1-5 10:38
HOLY GOSPEL Saint John 11:17-27 11:39
HYMN OF THE DAY Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart, (verses 1-2) 32:56
APOSTLES= CREED 37:45
PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION 38:34
GREETING OF PEACE 41:18
OFFERTORY Shen Khar Venakhi, Supruli Georgian Chorus 43:40
GREAT THANKSGIVING 48:13
HOLY, HOLY, HOLY 49:36
EUCHARISTIC PRAYER 50:22
THROUGH HIM, WITH HIM 53:06
OUR FATHER 53:40
LAMB OF GOD 54:53
ANTHEM Ave Maria 56:25
COMMUNION HYMN Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers 59:32
POST-COMMUNION PRAYER 1:06:40
POST-COMMUNION CANTICLE Te Deum 1:07:22
COMMENDATION AT THE FONT 1:11:17
PROCESSION TO THE COLUMBARIUM
Lord Thee I Love with All My Heart (verse 3) 1:11:45
READING Hebrews 11:13-16; 12:1-2 1:14:50
HYMN For All the Saints 1:16:00
POSTLUDE Passacaglia in D, Dieterich Buxtehude, c.1637/39-1707 1:22:13
AT THIS LITURGY 1:27:43