We have been so grateful for Pastor Jay Shailer as he has walked with us through the darkest days of our grief, and we are forever grateful for the words of hope that he managed to find to share with us and our family and friends at Alexander’s memorial service. With his permission, I share with you the Good News proclaimed by Pastor Jay Shailer at Alexander’s memorial service on Sunday, October 9, 2016.
Sisters and Brothers. Erin. Scott. Alexander’s Family. Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you all from God the Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” The name Jesus was given to the child of Mary, the Son of God, as a sign of salvation for all people. The naming of this child reminds us of God’s care for him and helps us remember this child’s coming among us.
These words are the opening to the naming rite that the church uses for children like Alexander. The church has this rite because we know naming someone is incredibly important. It gives us something to grab onto and cling to. It allows us to place that child into all the hopes and dreams that had been growing over the last months.
And, in Alexander’s case, it gives us a name to cry out. It gives us a name to pray for. His name makes him the real person that he indeed is.
Names are powerful. This is no secret. Calling out someone’s name can almost have a magical sway. Just think about your mother yelling out your full name, complete with your middle name.
When you hear that, you know she meant business, right. And I bet you all went running, even though you knew when you heard that full name called out, it probably wasn’t going to be a good outcome.
Our scriptures know how powerful names can be. Throughout the beginning of the biblical narrative, God never tells anyone God’s name until Moses, who hears it from the burning bush.
God doesn’t want that name abused–used for a bad purpose. Misusing God’s name is number two in the commandments.
God’s name is powerful. And only Good things are supposed to come from using that name. The importance of a name is etched into the very foundations of our faith, which is why we treat them so dearly.
Names are powerful. And of all the names out there, Alexander is one of the strongest. I know Erin and Scott agonized over picking his name. Just like all parents do. It’s a huge job!
I’m sure all the women would probably disagree with me, but at least from the guy’s perspective, deciding on a name is the hardest part of the pregnancy.
How do you narrow down an almost infinite list of names to fit your baby??? A little person who you really only know by the dreams and aspirations you have for them. How do you find a name that is cute while they’re little, but strong when they are adults? How do you find a name that will make your family feel honored, but is still unique? How do you find a name that reflects your faith, and isn’t going to make him one of five Bob’s in his classroom?
What do you do when you’re a youth director, having worked with countless kids, and remembering how annoying Jay was… so there’s no way that one is making the list.
The name Alexander is perfect. I’ll never forget going into the room after Alexander was delivered, knowing that we were going to use the naming rite, and after I said the words I started with today, I said, “What do you name your child?” and Erin said, “Alexander.”
I felt the gravity of his name hit my heart like a ton of bricks. I wanted to yell, “Yes! Yes he is Alexander!” But I had to try to act pastoral in the moment. Saying his name lifted me up from a very weird scary place to have a feeling of inspiration. It didn’t change the hurt. It didn’t break the sadness. But I knew this kid was still going to kick some butt despite it all.
And that feeling was right. Because Alexander is making an impact on many people. If any of you all haven’t had your hearts moved… twisted… ripped apart… and remade stronger by him, then you’re not living.
And I think that is where we are. Because to know the power of Alexander, you don’t need to be in a specific place. You don’t need to be “good” or “getting better” or “finding meaning” or any of those things.
Honestly, you shouldn’t be “good” with this. Not now. Not ever. We’re here to collectively name the fact that this sucks. It doesn’t get any worse than this. It shouldn’t happen. EVER. Period!!!
This is a bad thing, and we don’t need to come in here to put a bow on a crappy thing to try to feel better. That’s just ingenuine church talk. Forget all that. This is the cross in our context, planting itself in our life.
Just like what happened to Jesus, it’s a horribly bad thing that shouldn’t ever happen… unbearable pain happening right before our eyes. And there’s nothing we can do.
We can’t make it better. We can’t fix it. All we can do is live in it.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t be inspired by it. And it doesn’t mean Christ isn’t a part of it. This is exactly where Christ makes his biggest impact.
And that’s what I want to hold up here. That you can be beaten down sad and be moved at the same time. And that powerful inspiration that jumps out of the name Alexander is only made possible because the tomb is still empty.
Jesus Christ died a similarly bad death, and three days later got up and walked right out of his tomb. And because of that–because Jesus’ name is so powerful–Alexander is held in that same promise.
We know that the grace of Christ will prevail.
Hope… strength… life… are embodied in God’s holy name. And that is why we gather in our hurting. In our sadness. In our pain. To experience the power of the cross in action. Taking Alexander and giving him the promise of the kingdom.
Grace wins. Every time. And that is power we all know is possible.
There is power in a name. The name Alexander is indeed powerful. And for Alexander Haligowski, Erin and Scott couldn’t have picked a name that is more appropriate. Alexander is a Greek name that means “helper of people,” and that is definitely his power.
How many of you have been helped by him already? Through his story. Through his connection to all of us. We are better having known him, even though we all wish we would have been able to know him more.
We have a God with a strong powerful name that has promised to search us all out, in our searching, like lost sheep. And the answer to those prayers–to that searching–is the power of this little boy’s name. That has hit us like a ton of bricks. That makes us love, cry, and feel more than we ever knew was possible.
And as we remember Alexander, we have hope in his name. Inspiration in his name. Purpose in his name. Because his name is now one with Jesus’ name.