I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord;
he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live;
and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.
As those words and other burial sentences from the Book of Common Prayer were sung by a choir to the beautiful music of William Croft (1678-1727), the procession began for the funeral of the Rt. Rev. Edward Lloyd Salmon, Jr., at the Episcopal Church of St. Michael and St. George in Clayton, Missouri, earlier this week. At that service, I and many other clergy who had been formed under the leadership of Bishop Salmon paid our final respects to him and participated in that procession.
I had first met Bishop Salmon in 1996 at his office in Charleston when he was the Bishop of South Carolina. I was a newly ordained deacon who had come to serve in his diocese from the Diocese of North Carolina. He really only had two things to say to me. First, he told me that we in the Diocese of South Carolina are not confused about who Jesus is. Second, he told me that people would try to dump garbage at my feet (i.e., triangulate) and that my job was not to be a garbage collector. In other words, individuals were sure to bring their complaints about other parishioners or staff members to me with no intention to deal with those relationships themselves.
One year after I had been ordained to the diaconate, Bishop Salmon ordained me on the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, June 29, 1997, as a priest at the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Surfside Beach, South Carolina. He also officiated at my wedding in 2003 at Bruton Parish Episcopal Church in Williamsburg, Virginia. With those famous mutton chops down the sides of his cheeks, Bishop Salmon always looked as though he had stepped out of a 19th-century oil portrait of a bishop in the Church of England. Although he could indeed be firm, he was gracious and kind.
Bishop Salmon died last month on the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, June 29, which was exactly 19 years after he ordained me to the priesthood. He died before sunrise. But he will awake in the eternal light of that new day, known as Easter. This I believe.
I spent an hour in the church where Bishop Salmon’s body was lying in repose in the chancel during a vigil before his funeral. I was there in the late morning. The service would not begin until that evening. It was raining outside, and I could hear thunder while sitting in the pew. Alone there during most of that time, I thought about the stormy chapters in the history of the Episcopal Church throughout Bishop Salmon’s episcopate. Most people know that he often voted with the more conservative and traditional wing of the House of Bishops. But he was also gracious and kind to those who did not agree with him, and Bishop Salmon was willing to work with them. That willingness to work across theological divides caused him to be criticized by liberals and conservatives alike. I did not always agree with him. Yet he was truly my bishop.
Before the commendation near the end of the funeral, as the celebrant sprinkled the casket with holy water to remind us that Bishop Salmon was baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the choir sang a version of the following anthem by John Tavener (1944-2013). And that is when I felt the most overwhelmed by emotion.
Alleluia. May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
Alleluia. Remember me, O Lord, when you come into your kingdom.
Alleluia. Give rest O Lord to your [servant,] who has fallen asleep.
Alleluia. The Choir of Saints have found the well-spring of life
and door of paradise.
Alleluia. Life: a shadow and a dream.
Alleluia. Weeping at the grave creates the song: Alleluia.
Come, enjoy rewards and crowns I have prepared for you. Alleluia.
Last but not least, definitely not least in the life of Bishop Salmon, this reflection would be incomplete without mentioning his dogs. There are many photographs of him with rather large dogs sitting in his lap. I had the pleasure of meeting a lot of friends, old and new, at the home of Bishop Salmon the night before the funeral. It was good to see his wife Louise again and to meet their children Catherine and Edward. But I was especially delighted to meet his newest puppy, Lindy. Alleluia!