My mother died on Thursday, February 8th and today, February 13th was her funeral. This is the sermon I preached on that occasion.
I would like to begin this morning’s reflection with a word of thanks. On behalf of my father, my brothers and sister-in-law, the grandchildren and I thank you all for not only being here today but for being with us these last days as we begin the process of healing. It is so lovely to see all of you here and to have read all of the amazing messages in the cards you sent and the messages posted on the Facebook.
But I need to add a very personal note of thanks to my darling wife, Nicky. I would not have been able to get through these last few days without you, and I am so glad you are a part of my life and a part of this amazing family. Thanks for saying yes!
I hope you will grant me a few moments of reflection here this morning, it might be a little longer than usual, but it is always dangerous when you give a preacher the microphone. I cannot count the number of funerals I have presided over, but this one has to be the hardest. Someone asked me how I could do it and my response is it is what I do, and it is what she wanted me to do. Where does my strength come from? I turn to Psalm 121, “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”
Rituals are important. We all have them, and we have all participated in them. Think about our lives, they all revolve around one ritual or another; even our morning routine can be considered a ritual. We have rituals for beginnings, and we have rituals for endings. We have rituals for the start of life and, what beings us here today, rituals for the end of life.
The other day as the family gathered at home we grew up in, we had the ritual of going through the pictures to prepare the video that was being played at the wake last night. Going through boxes of photos and photo albums was an amazing thing and were able to tell stories and have good memories. Rituals are important.
When I was in the Orthodox Church, at the end of every funeral or memorial service, we would sing Memory Eternal. I will spare you my singing voice today, but the reason this was sung and the reason we would say may their memory be eternal, is to remind us that it is up to us to not forget those who have gone before us. Sure there will be pain we when have memories and moments of intense grief, but I believe all of those who have gone before us are always with us in our minds and our hearts. We keep them alive if you will, with the stories and the memories that we share and the private ones.
But, this ritual today is not for my mother. I know it sounds like a cliché but she is in a “better place.” My faith teaches me, and this is my faith, and it works for me, my faith teaches me that she is now truly in a better place because she is not here and having to deal with the pain. For her, that part of her life has ended. But my faith also teaches me that she is with all of those who have gone before us. She is playing scrabble with her sister Jackie or sitting around a table working on another piece of ceramics. By the way, Jacob and Julia, you are going to have to replace her at Eileen’s ceramic shop. Today this ritual is for us, a time to grieve and a time to celebrate.
But my faith also teaches me that she has been welcomed into that place and is in the arms of her savior and that she heard those words we all long to hear “well done good and faithful servant.” I know this has to be true, she raised four boys and had to deal with all of us, not me, of course, I was an angel. But if that is not a ticket in I do not know what is!
But let’s talk about faith for a moment. Any of you who know me or have heard me preach you know that most of what I preach, teach, believe, and act follows two simple rules; love God and love your neighbor. My mother lived this in her life, and that is where I learned it. Sure, I went to seminary, and all of that but my belief comes from watching her in her life she loved her God, and she loved and cared for her neighbor. And she did unconditionally. My mother respected everyone; my mother respected the choices everyone made. She may not have always agreed with them, but she respected them.
Faith was important to my mother, and she taught all of her sons to respect faith, but she also told us that we had to make our own decisions. Her faith was her faith, and it worked for her that did not mean it would work for us and we have become, well, a somewhat eclectic faith family. But I remember the day I told her I had been accepted to seminary. She had a big smile on her face, and she said that could not wait to see me standing in the pulpit at Most Blessed Sacrament Church, well, here I am! Maybe not the way she wanted me to but…
And let’s talk about this place a little. This building that formed our young lives. Most of my family were baptized here, received our d first spoke to me and called me to serve Him in ministry. This is a unique place, and it is good that we are here today in this place that she loved.
So how does one sum up 84 years of life? I have been thinking about this for several days, and it came to me last night as I was standing in line at the wake. I can sum up my mother’s life just by looking out at all of you and the hundreds that came to the wake last night. When I preach, I often use the image of the pebble being dropped into the lake and the ripples going out. We saw ripples last night and have been hearing from people all over about how my mother touched their lives in big ways and in small. I shook so many hands last night I thought I was running for office! But what an amazing tribute and I thank all of you again.
Family was important to my mother. She came from a rather large family, there were 10 of them all together, and the family has gotten a little larger since then. As each of her sisters and their families moved away, she stayed in contact with them. Every now and again when one of the cousins was getting married, she would load us all in the car, and we would head off on some journey. Many times it was like National Lampoons Vacation, but we always arrived, and we always returned.
But the last few years she was able to connect with the vast extended family via Facebook, and she loved sitting at the table in the morning looking at all of the pictures and reading about what was going on in their lives. She did not make many comments, but she read everything and was genuinely interested in everyone’s lives. Many of the “out of town” relatives, as we call them, have come today, from both sides of the family and I am sure she has a big smile on her face knowing that we are all here. She was so looking forward to the reunion in Tennessee this summer.
So now we begin the task of life without. It has been said that we never get over it, but we just get used to them not being there and eventually the smile and the laughs will return. My mother had a good run, and she lived her life to the fullest. If there is one lesson that we should learn is that life is short, yes 84 years is short, hug those that need hugs, love those who need love, forgive those that need forgiving and live life today for we have no idea what tomorrow will bring.
Let us pray:
Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word. For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; to be a light to lighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of thy people Israel.