Your keeping vigil with your mother over the past month occurred, primarily, during the season of Epiphany. The season of Epiphany in the church calendar is all about the revelation of Jesus. And the stories that we hear during this season — the baptism of Jesus, the miracle of water to wine, and the magi bringing priceless gifts to the baby Jesus — emphasize the glory of God in the coming of Jesus into the world.
Christians have responded to the revelation of God’s glory by affirming Jesus as the divine Son of God. The season finds its climax in the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountaintop alongside other biblical greats in Moses and Elijah. Here we witness as a foretaste of the coming glory of Easter the epitome of God’s shining glory in the blazing light of Jesus’ holy presence.
It may at first seem incongruous to talk about God’s glory on a day when we grieve the death of one beloved among us. It may at first even appear nonsense to focus on the brilliance, beauty, and blazing light of God’s presence in and around us during the darkest, coldest part of the year. As does wintertime, death may come to us as an example of God’s defeat, not God’s victory.
And yet, I do not hesitate in beginning this funeral sermon by mentioning God’s glory in Jesus. And not only because we still find ourselves in the season after Epiphany. It’s more because of whom we remember this day.
Because, for me, her life with us — even to the end — truly reflected God’s glory. In the sense that her presence conveyed dignity, respect, elegance. You told me how often she upheld values of proper etiquette and dress — especially in church! She wanted to look beautiful. God forbid you wore jeans to church!
Around New Year’s when she was very low I remember coming to the hospital to visit her. I had to wait outside in the hallway for a few minutes as a nurse attended to her. When I was finally called in to her room, I came in just as she was getting help from one of you putting her lipstick on! Even in her severely weakened, vulnerable, state, she still wanted to do what she could, to look beautiful. Glorious!
Epiphany is faith’s response to the dark, cold days of winter. Epiphany is faith’s response to the dark, difficult, painful times of our lives. Not that we deny, brush over, or try to hide that reality.
Only that we affirm, despite the loss and amidst the grief, the small nugget of hope — of beauty — within us all, as she did for herself. Your loved one was especially gifted at pointing out, recognizing and affirming that nugget in us — even when we couldn’t see it ourselves!
She truly had the gift of encouragement. And she used it! Several of you have recalled for me times when after leading a bible study or presenting music or words in worship, she would take the time to make a phone call or write a card to you afterwards. In those simple acts, she thanked you and pointed out the positive — even though you may have felt the opposite about the experience!
Earlier in her life, she exercised her gift of hospitality and invitation to newcomers to the community — inviting them over for supper or tea. Such grace goes a long way to affirm that gift of hope and faith in us so often and easily shrouded by life’s difficulties.
In doing so, your loved one was herself being transformed. Through the course of her life, in exercising her gifts of encouragement, hospitality, generosity and care, she was being transformed into the likeness of Christ’s glory. Indeed, I believe she once described to me her own life as a journey towards God.
There’s an old story (as told by Barbara Schmitz, p.35, “Changed From Glory Into Glory” in The Life of Christ and the Death of a Loved One, CSS Publishing, 1995) about a fellow who fell in love with a young woman. But he was sure that she would not be interested in him because he didn’t think he looked handsome. So with the help of a surgeon he had a special mask designed, a handsome mask that was then placed over his face. With this handsome new look, he easily won over the woman he loved and they were married.
But many years later, she discovered the trick and asked him to remove it. When he peeled off the mask, what was underneath, but a handsome face! For, after all those years, his natural face had slowly taken on the handsome contours of the mask. His face had been transformed into the likeness of the mask.
The Christian life, from baptism to death, is indeed a journey of being changed, transformed, into the likeness of Jesus Christ. And periodically, on this journey, in good times and even through difficult times, we pause to give thanks and celebrate the good, the blessing, the gift, that is there whether we always see it or not.
At this funeral service, we give thanks for the life of our loved one who now celebrates at the banquet feast of heaven. At this funeral service, we also share in a holy meal often called the Eucharist. Eucharist means “thanksgiving”. And in our thanksgiving to God for Jesus, we take one more step on that journey of being healed, being changed, being transformed, for the good.
May our lives, as did the one whom we remember today, reflect the glory of God.
In Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior.