A Homily in Celebration of the Life of Karen E. Ford || October 10th, 2011|| Isaiah 61:1-3; II Corinthians 4:16-5:9; John 11: 21-27
The Rev. Margot D Critchfield
Chris, you and the kids picked the perfect Gospel reading for Karen. And the reason it’s so perfect, is because it’s so easy to imagine Karen in the place of Martha, saying those very words: “Yes, Lord, I believe that you’re the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” Can’t you just hear Karen talking to Jesus like that, but with that gentle southern lilt of hers?
It’s also the perfect gospel reading for Karen because it’s the Good News of Jesus Christ stated about as succinctly as it can be—and Karen lived and breathed and embodied that Good News every day of her life with absolutely astonishing consistency. Karen knew the Lord; Karen knew he was her Messiah; and Karen never doubted that she’d be with him when it was time to go home.
One of the most amazing things about Karen to me, personally, is that as sick as she was these last few weeks, she never lost heart. To paraphrase the apostle Paul in the letter to the Corinthians, she knew this “slight momentary affliction” was preparing her for “an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure.”
Karen never doubted that, “if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed,we have a building from God…eternal in the heavens.” And that is, after all, the faith that we, as Christians proclaim—that in defiance of all of our so-called rational, scientific, post-enlightenment intellectualism, death is not the final word. Because that victory has already been won!
I believe that with all of my heart, and we all know that Karen—with her unshakable faith believed it too. Karen believed in a God so loving and compassionate, that he became one of us in Jesus, so we might know him intimately. And surely Karen, of all people, knew intimately.
So just as the remembrances we just heard evoked for us such a powerful sense of our beloved Karen, I want to take just a minute to evoke for you a sense of the all-loving and all-powerful God in whose presence Karen is now living—the God who has inexplicably, mysteriously, but nonetheless definitively restored Karen and made her whole; who has granted her entrance into what we call in our prayer book, “the land of light and joy…where sorrow and pain are no more.” The God in whom Karen has new life beyond our wildest imaginings, and in whom she will continue to grow—in love and service and joy, the God who continues to love her into being in the eternity of now.
This is the very same God who the prophet Isaiah says will comfort all who mourn by giving them “a garland instead of ashes,” and a “mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.”
Every single one of us here today needs to know now, and needs to remember in the days ahead, that the essence of that God is love–unspeakably powerful, healing, and reconciling love. Steadfast,unfailing love. The kind of love that Karen gave such powerful witness to…and that she radiated like a bright light in the darkness even to the very end.
I don’t know why Karen had to die so prematurely. It seems so cursedly unfair for someone so faithful–someone with such an authentically beautiful soul to be taken from us so young! But I do know, to the very core of my being, that God doesn’t cause disease or suffering or grief. I don’t buy for one minute that, God “takes us” at an appointed time, or that when someone dies it’s necessarily because “It must have been God’s will.”
Nonsense. It wasn’t God’s will for Karen to have cancer. God’s will is for all of us to be healthy and whole and free—in mind, body and spirit—just as he created us to be.
Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come,” because God’s kingdom has not yet come in its entirety. He taught us to pray, “Thy will be done,” because God’s will is not yet always done in this world of ours. The Kingdom of God is a place where no one gets cancer or suffers or grieves in any way. It’s a place where everyone who believes in the Son of God, even though they die will live, and everyone who lives and believes in him will never die.
But we live in a world that is still very much broken. And I think that breaks God’s heart even more than ours. It breaks God’s heart so much, that he became one of us in Christ, to begin the work of healing and transforming our broken world into his Kingdom. And he trusts and empowers us—every time we come to that altar—to continue the Kingdom-building work that he began.
God trusts and empowers us—to do all that we can—in our own lives—to see that His will is done right here, right now, on earth just as it is in heaven. And that’s huge! That is how Karen lived her life.
They say the Kingdom of God is “already, but not yet.” It is already, because in Christ it has “already” taken foothold in our world, but it is “not yet” because it’s not yet fully realized “on earth as it is in heaven.” It is already, because in Christ God promises us life in an entirely new and incomparably better way—life where we are healed, made whole, and fully the creatures God created us to be. But it is not yet, because the only way for us to experience such unimaginably abundant life nowis by passing from death to life.
Karen has made that passage from death to life. Karen lives now in the joy of God’s kingdom realized. She is alive now—really alive—in the never-failing love God shares with us in Christ. May each of us here today experience the profoundly healing power of that love as our broken hearts grieve the loss of Karen. And may each of us honor Karen’s life, by being bearers of that love in the lives of others, right here and right now—on earth as in heaven. Amen.