With Thanksgiving for the Life of Elaine Faye Braley
21July31 + 18Sept14
Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 23; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; verses from Luke 13
I’d like to begin this sermon or reflection by looking back to just about six weeks ago. Back in the middle of August, there was a fairly urgent call to head up to the hospital. See, Elaine and David had been out to eat fish fry, which was nothing unusual, but then things took a terrible surprise turn, and all of a sudden she was in the hospital on the ventilator, or what we often call life support. And I got there at the time of the decision to take her off life support, to stop filling her lungs with artificial breaths. We could only guess that her lungs weren’t going to respond on their own.
So I was there for prayers. In some traditions, it would be called “last rites.” For us Lutherans, it’s a chance to say good-byes and to remember that Elaine was at that moment, had always been, and will continue to be in God’s care. See, there’s nothing we can do to add to blessing, because there’s nothing that can take us out of God’s embrace in the first place. Even today, when we commend her into God’s care, it is really just a reminder that for all of our love and concern and best efforts to be with her and to help her, she’s been in God’s hands the whole time and will rest there safely and securely and will never be separated from that love or that eternal party. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
See, Elaine had another surprise. As we concluded those prayers for the dying, we were expecting that that was about it for Elaine. But several days later, she was still around. So I got to go out for a visit at the Hospice center, and I walked through the door of her room and my jaw actually did drop open. I was speechless. So much for the commendation of the dying. Instead, Elaine was sitting up in her chair, had been able to feed herself lunch. And as all the others of you who got to visit with her would probably say, she was back to her old self. She was laughing and making jokes and sharing memories and making introductions to be sure everybody was familiar with each other and able to relate, and she was insisting to me that we need to take care of Travis and remarking how proud she was of what an amazing young man this grandson of hers was growing to be.
And all of that sounds just like her old self, right? That enjoyment of the company and getting to be social, I think even some talk of cards and of tasty food, and most especially that delight in family and concern that insists they are well cared for.
If we’re looking for a glimpse of God in Elaine’s life, I’d say we see God’s love reflected in her, like the Bible reading of extravagant welcome and Jesus as the mother hen, wanting to gather the little ones under his wing, keeping them safe and sound. With Elaine, it was in the delight in relationships, in persisting with compassion even through difficult circumstances, which showed in her career with the hard lives of those out at Central Wisconsin Center or maybe shows even more in almost 64 years of marriage, of dedicated, persistent love through thick and thin, for better or for worse, right David?
But if we’re looking for glimpses and reflections of God in Elaine’s life, or our lives, or our world, there are places where that runs out and we’re left with only questions and with mystery. In the month since that amazing recovery, there were further downs, and more ups, and ultimately going back to Hospice for the end. We’d certainly like to attribute the healings and recoveries and wonderful moments together this last month as God’s blessings. But does that mean the sadder times and being here today, again having to confront death, mean that God’s blessing fails for some reason? No matter what, in this moment of loss and sorrow, we have to miss all the old days of snowmobiling and screaming at the disappointments of the Brewers and all.
There are indeed hard questions we can’t know answers to. We can keep asking, “Why?” Even in prayers of lament and of weeping, it’s a good question. It may be our brokenness too often gets in the way. It may be life is fragile. Even our love, as much as we strive and struggle to keep at it, is incomplete and imperfect.
But we gather here this evening, not just to lament and grieve together, but also because this is not the end. We expect something more. Rather than the good having been all in the past, we trust the best is yet to come. And we need constant reminders of that hope. “Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again,” we heard in the Bible reading, “even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.” In the cross of Jesus, we see that things don’t always make sense, that suffering and death may appear to prevail. But there is a third day, on the third day he rose again. There is resurrection. There is more.
With that, as a concluding note, it’s amazing to look at these photos, a small sample of Elaine’s total collection, with her camera always with her. I notice a theme in them, seeing all the food. In backyard picnics and over anniversary cakes and probably some birthday cakes with that crazy Mickey Mouse birthday song, and outings with friends and with family, at restaurants, from Culvers to supper clubs and more, right up to that last fish fry. Those seem to be a lot of really good memories and meals to cherish. But even there, we expect something more. So to conclude, I want to point out the theme of banquets that also ran through our Bible readings. Maybe for now we literally get a small taste of what’s to come in the heavenly party, the eternal feast, when our lungs will be filled with new breath, with the very Spirit of God, in eternal life.
It’s something we can’t fully understand. But we hope and believe and trust that God’s got it figured out in Jesus, for Elaine and for you, for now and forever. Amen