In Celebration and Thanksgiving for the Life of Barbara Cook

Homily for Saturday, March 3, 2012
Revelation 21: 2-7; Psalm 23; John 14: 1-6
The Rev. Margot D. Critchfield

I want to begin this homily by saying what will seem to some of you like a statement of the obvious but will seem to others like a fantastic, if not outrageous claim, and it is this:  That Barbara is alive.  That in fact she is not only alive but is more alive now than she’s ever been—completely healed, made whole, and free to be herself in a way that none of us can ever fully be ourselves in this exquisitely beautiful –but undeniably broken– world of ours.

Courageous yet humble Barbara… faithful yet filled with questions Barbara…Barbara sometimes burdened by strong opinions but always blessed with the patience of a saint…prayerful, thoughtful, introverted Barbara, who chose quiet service and steadfast presence as the expression of her love.  Barbara is alive.

And I don’t mean simply that she lives on in us and in our memories, though that is certainly true, and is a grace to be celebrated and treasured by each of us: There is a very real way in which every one of us who knew Barbara, in whatever capacity we knew her, has her in us now, as part of our being.  I will never preach a sermon at the 8:00 service here without seeing her sitting in “her” chair over there, brow furrowed, listening attentively.  Barbara was such an intensely deep listener—such a thoughtful and active listener!  You could see the wheels spinning…One way I hope to honor her memory is by becoming a more thoughtful and active listener myself.

But when I say that Barbara is alive, I mean that she is alive as in: “though this body be destroyed, yet shall I see God; whom I shall see for myself and mine eyes shall behold, and not as a stranger…” I mean she is alive as in, “he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die…” I mean she is alive as in, “I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”

I mean she is alive in the land of light and joy.  Alive in the communion of saints.  Alive in the mystery we cannot even begin to understand, of new life in Christ. Barbara is alive.

And yet we are here, without her. And so we grieve her not being here with us—not in the way we know, not in the way with which we are most familiar or in the way to which we’ve grown most accustomed.  We cannot touch, see, hear, or embrace her memory—and it’s not our time yet to live in that promised land of light and joy with her.

So while I began this homily affirming what we, as Christians, believe to be true about life after life—and what I have come to believe in the very heart of my being to be true without a doubt—now I want to end by affirming something else, and it is this:  That grieving is profoundly faithful and holy work.  That despite what our gospel reading may seem to say today, letting our hearts be troubled and believing in God are by no means two mutually exclusive things.

Our God is a big God, and a loving God, and when Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, believe in God, believe also in me,” he isn’t telling us not to trouble our hearts with grief; rather he is inviting us to share that grief with him and with the Father, so we will know we are not alone in it, so we can open ourselves to their healing love, and so we might be reminded that death is not the last act.

Jesus wants us to know that we need never be alone in our grief—unless we choose to be. One of the many mysterious things about God is that God respects our freedom—God doesn’t go where He’s not invited. God doesn’t force God’s self into our lives. But don’t let that fool you: God is present.  God is always present.  And no one hurts more when we grieve than the One who created us for joy.  We are His children!  He loves us!  How could His heart not break when ours are broken—especially when we shut Him out?

Please don’t shut God out.  But if you must, know that He’s waiting to be invited back in and will never give up that waiting. Not ever.

One day, God will wipe every tear from our eyes.  One day, death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more; and all things will be made new.  One day, we will see the new heaven and new earth, and the burden of grief will make no claim on us.

Until then, we pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done” and we work in Christ’s behalf to make it so, like Barbara did: Faithfully, yet filled with questions… courageously, yet in humble service to others … and attentively, that we might listen for the voice of God amidst the clatter of life.

“Beautiful souls like Barbara are rare,” wrote one of her friends, “like a shooting star.”  May the light of Barbara’s life shine on in each of us, through the power of the One who created us.  Amen.

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