Do not let your hearts be troubled, Jesus tells us. Seriously? How can our hearts, why should our hearts not be troubled by the death of Peter Hopkins—someone so full of life, who died so suddenly and unexpectedly? It all just seems so surreal—that he could go from being fully alive—singing, well, one day, and dead the next. It seems unreal that, in this life, we will never again hear that big laugh, sing with him, or watch him conduct a Bach motet. So it is really hard not to be troubled.
I first met Peter just over 10 years ago when he was the Director of Music here at St. Peter’s and I was the new Assistant for Christian Formation. He immediately drew me in with his big blue eyes and his energy. He so clearly had a passion for music—other than his family, Hannah and Paula, whom he loved dearly, music was his life. He come into St. Peter’s at a difficult time in the life of the music program here and, through both skill and sheer force of personality, he gave it new life. Through his care and leadership the number of children singing in the choir expanded—it was under Peter that girls were first added to the ranks of singers. He had a passion for church music, especially for the long tradition of excellence in Anglican choral music, and he loved the work of new composers—such as his dear friend Debra Scroggins whose work became a beloved part of the repertoire here, this new music bringing richness in worship to both choir and congregation. He worked to create bonds with other churches, sharing evensong with Old St. Joseph’s, and services with Christ Church. And, most memorably, he dreamed up and put on Unevensong—one of the most hilarious, fun filled series of evenings ever. Evenings that not only raised a lot of money for the choral program but served as proof that, though Peter could take himself quite seriously, he could also look about as foolish as a person could get—and love it. Like the year he dressed as Elvis only to realize, too late in the evening, and while onstage, that his white pants were quite transparent.
Peter had one of those brains that just contained a lot of information—information he could spit out at a moment’s notice—encyclopedic knowledge of just about everything—staff lunches were often a “stuff Peter knows” event—everything from the latest diet trend to cell biology to how to make a watermelon into a hat (I might have made that one up…). If he had ever gone on Jeopardy, he would have made a fortune. Peter had an opinion on just about everything, and he was never ever shy about voicing it. Like each of us, Peter was a complex human being—parts that were lovable, and parts that were difficult. And, like each of us, Peter was, and is, a thoroughly known, thoroughly beloved child of God.
And so it is hard to let go. Hard to say goodbye. And it is especially hard to think of Paula and Hannah—of their grief. Knowing that they must figure out how to put their lives together without him—a task that I would imagine feels overwhelming. I am guessing that, if Hannah and Paula were here, one of the things they might say is that not getting the chance to say goodbye was hard. And they might counsel us to live each day as if it were our last—not letting the sun go down on arguments, and not forgetting to tell those we love that we love them. Apparently, on his last day, Peter had a full schedule at church—leading the choirs for morning worship and then, finally, singing Compline with them. There is something beautifully fitting that among the last things Peter heard, sang, in this life, were the words of the nunc dimittis: “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.”
Every human life is a resurrection witness—speaking to the power of Jesus who lives in us in this life and who leads us to new life beyond this one. Peter’s life, with all of its joys, laughter, struggles, pain, and love, was just that—an instance of Jesus’ own life lived among us. And in this space between Jesus’ resurrection and ours, we have to let go, to give Peter back to the God who gave him life—gave him to us for a time.
I don’t remember if Peter and I ever had a conversation about what he thought heaven was like, and, while I trust completely that we live on in God after this life, I have no clue what that looks like. Yet I still like to think that on some distant shore Peter has met up with his loved ones, has taken over the heavenly choir, is planning unEvensongs with his new best friend Bach, and has straightened out St. Peter, and probably even God, on a few matters of discipline and doctrine.
So we celebrate Peter’s life and rejoice in the new life he now has—life fully in Christ. We put on a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. And we give him back to the God who loves him and each of us, completely and fully, in this life and the life to come. Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.