a funeral sermon

With Thanksgiving for the Life of Dorothy Jean Anderson  23 April 1927 + 1 January 2015

Psalm 23; Romans 8:35-39; John 1:1-18

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

We gather this moment in loss, the person you knew taken away. Death steals a loved one from you. That sad fact is also true in strong degree about dementia and Alzheimer’s, about bad illnesses and diseases that ravage somebody to an extent that you know longer know them, can’t recognize them as familiar.

I know this case has been in process since Dorothy moved to Wisconsin, at least since she became less capable and more dependent, since her mind deteriorated and her personality changed. The final fall into weakness and visit to the emergency room and her body finally deciding enough was enough has just been the last stage, even to an extent a stage of relief, for these many months of having your mother slip away from you, Chris and family. She was no longer the woman you had known.

There is blessing in many wonderful memories, the stories shared that make you who you are. With your mother and grandmother, there are things from long ago, of growing up around her. There was her care and guidance and watchful eye and all she taught you. As you grew, the memories change, but it is still the same woman you know and remember. For those of you who knew her at other times, you have your own recollections and cherished moments. Those are things that, in spite of what it meant to be losing her and even facing this larger loss of death now that nevertheless cannot be taken away. That part of her abides with you.

Yet as I’ve been reflecting on that, also striking me is how difficult—or impossible—it is really to know each other fully. Think for a moment on how much you don’t know: all the things you heard only second-hand, almost as tall tales or legends; the secrets that you heard about much later, as well as those that remain undiscovered; all the vast and long details of Dorothy’s life—from her childhood to daily routines to internal emotions—all that you just plain have no way of knowing.

I’m thinking about that because even as much of her as you knew and loved and have in some way lost, it still means you knew her only in part.

I’m also thinking about that because it echoes our Gospel reading, in discussing what we may or may not know of God. It says there’s plenty we don’t know, since nobody has ever seen God. But it’s not left to mystery or our imaginations. It says what we have known of God is Jesus.

That’s important for us, for this time of death and this time of holiday. At the end of the Christmas season, on this 12th day of Christmas, this reminds us that we know God as a baby in a manger, cradled and nursed by his mother Mary, as one born to be good news for Bethlehem and for shepherds and for kings and for the sick and despairing and for Dorothy and for us. Jesus is the heart of this good news, the core and crux of what we need to know about God. We know that God has come to be with us, to dwell among us and live with us, that God cares for us. That is the Word calling us into being, creating life in us, and then entering our life, the Word that becomes flesh.

It is also this Word we know in Jesus who will never leave us, who is God abiding with us. In Jesus, we know a God who holds us close, who is there to nurse and assist us in our weakness and help us in our needs. (With that, we should well note that the point of this gathering was in gratitude for the caring staff of Heritage Monona, who are serving as an embodiment of God’s work. Thank you for doing it.) We share in this God knowledge of compassion, since Jesus suffers with us, goes through loss and cries out in feeling lonely and forsaken. So we know a God who won’t abandon us even in the face of death. Ultimately God brings us through that, out of his tomb and out of our graves to dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Again, the core and crux of what you may know about God at this moment is that God is not distant or unconcerned or powerless. In Jesus you have a God of love, abiding with you for life. You are brought into God’s family, an assurance for Dorothy long ago in baptism that she was claimed as a beloved child of God. As the beautiful Romans reading reminds us, nothing can stop that love. Nothing can stop God’s work. Nothing that interferes with life. Nothing that goes wrong. No diseases or struggles or brokenness. Not even death can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

That, finally, reminds me of one other Bible passage. It’s one we don’t usually relate either to Christmas-time or to funerals, but mostly to weddings. The “love chapter,” 1st Corinthians 13, works well at the start of a marriage, when families begin together, encouraging us to be patient, kind, and enduring in love. It’s guidance that can serve well in all of our relationships. But, as we said earlier, even at our best and closest, still we only know in part. As it says in those verses, we see in a glass darkly, or have a fuzzy view through a mirror. It’s not complete yet.

“But then,” it concludes, “then we will know fully, even as we have been fully known.” Those are words of promise for you and for Dorothy. She was fully known by God, recognized and loved and held throughout her long life. In faith, she clung to trust in this God through Jesus. And now she rests in the promise of completion, that she will know God fully, face to face.

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