a funeral sermon

With Thanksgiving for the Life of Nola Gale Jacobson

20 July 1932 + 18 December 2015

Psalm 57

 

This may be neither a favorite or familiar Bible passage. I was searching through the Psalms for ones with singing and music in them, looking for something that would go well with Nola. This certainly does, at least from my perspective.

See, all of you can say more about much of Nola’s life. The shared passions that Libby embodies and offered for us, or the piano skills that James is sharing, and the fullness of life in Corky’s song. You’ll have more chances to share stories and memories of this vibrant and vivacious woman in just a bit, as we’re transitioning to her requested cocktail hour (exclamation point!). There were plenty of these enormous aspects of Nola’s life—the things you so loved about her—that I only knew hints of, or caught around the periphery.

But this Psalm captures some of those things, plus also that faith of hers that was the part of her I did know. As in the Psalm, and as in the rest of Nola’s “lovely and fancy” life, her faith was one of delighting, of enjoying music, of contributing in the ways she could. Even when she wasn’t able to be at church, her devotion still kept her aware of what was happening. She was attentive and a fantastic listener, remembering details, and always ready for laughter.

That’s the shape of the Psalm, that exalts in the world around us, and that gives thanks for so much blessing, while still expecting more from God. That is a reasonable model for this gathering today. We have much for which to be thankful in Nola’s life and how we shared it with her. The chance to tell of those influences and remember so many good times is part of this day. But it is not only for looking back, not only for the past.

We also look forward. And the Psalm voices that with Nola and for us, as well, expecting that we are in God’s care and that this loving God is our refuge and our salvation. We trust that for Nola now. We hope for that good news, even as so much remains a mystery for us.

That seems especially the case during this week. This is a hard time to be at a funeral, in these days just before Christmas. As good as it is to be together and to continue enjoying the life that Nola enjoyed, still this is hard. It can’t help but feel wrong. Death so often feels that way, but especially during this season.

And it remains mysterious, why life is like this and how God is working through all of it. Perhaps at the most basic level, this is supposed to be a time of joy and celebration, of those good things in life. So we have to want to ask God “why?” Why this, why now?

Though we don’t get direct answers to that question, the answer we do have perhaps just leaves us pondering even more. We expect or wish that God would simply spare us sorrow, would deliver us from all evil, would take away pains and suffering and death. The notion of heaven and Nola being in a better place is a marker of that sense. But we don’t have a God who skips from happiness to happiness (or happy hour to happy hour), a God who bypasses the difficult times, transporting us from earthly delights directly to heavenly bliss.

This week, while we are confronting the loss of having Nola to share life with us on top of the death of her son, we are also hearing again the old story of God coming to share life with us. That is the center of the Christmas story, of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. It is a strange and unusual description for God—to be fragile and weak as a newborn, to be left out in the cold and laid in a feedtrough, since there was no room for them in the inn. This is a story not only of God offering us contentments and luxuries, but also coming to know our worries and our relationships and even just the daily grind of existence in life. This God is part of sleepless nights, and of travels, and shared feasting, and our music. This God in Jesus knows our sickness and our struggles and even our dying.

Why would God choose to be born as a baby? Why would God deal with the ups and, more particularly, the downs of this life? Why would God bother to confront death? Why wouldn’t God do it differently?

We’re left without an answer to that “why,” left with the mystery of God’s love shared in our life, and bringing us beyond the surprises of it all to something more. That is the faith and trust that Nola held. It is the God who holds her now, with Bob and with Eric.

And though we may wish that some things were different, we are also left with that faith now, left to embody it in the caring ways that Nola did. In these moments and in days to come, that does mean enjoyment, of time for a cocktail to toast life, and of time to be together, to listen and to laugh, to share in celebrations and in compassion, in tears and sorrows. This is what the God of Christmas did for you in Jesus, what God would have you do for each other, what Nola did, and what you may do while holding on to the mystery of faith.

 

Let’s pray.

God of heaven, we hear the Christmas angels with tidings of highest glory and of peace and goodwill on earth. Even as we look for more to come for Nola, anticipating promises of resurrection to life everlasting, we ask that you surround us with peace and faith in your goodness and love now.

In the midst of mystery and things we cannot understand, give us good courage to trust that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us.

For this week that has been almost too much, with sorrow for Eric and the rapid end for Nola, we ask for your comfort, including your presence through the compassion we share with each other. In our grieving and hoping, assure us by your Holy Spirit that we are in your tender care and that you prepare tables before us now and will bring us forever into your household, through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who taught us to pray:

Our Father, who art in heaven…

 

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