Brushing the Canvas (For Lester)

Homily preached at the funeral of Lester R. Gammon
May 12, 2012
Luke 1
The Rev. Adam Thomas

I met Lester and Dot Gammon about this time two years ago. I had moved to the South Shore from West Virginia, and after a month or so of settling in time, Margot began taking me around to meet some of our beloved parishioners. We arrived at the house on Blueberry Lane one wet afternoon, and, immediately upon meeting me, Dot pressed several cookies and sweets into my hand because I was too thin. Lester sat on the couch while Margot, Dot, and I chatted, but he didn’t say much. He sat peacefully – listening, offering the occasional comment or two.

Then Margot suggested he show me his studio out back. In an instant, a smile broke out on Lester’s face, he about leapt up from the couch and ushered me outside. We walked across the damp lawn to the little structure in the backyard, Lester held the door open for me, and I stepped inside. And I was totally unprepared for the kaleidoscope of color, line, and form that met me within. I felt like I had wandered into a storage room at the MFA. My eyes swept over the exquisite paintings stacked around the room, and they finally rested on the enormous battle scene that took up one whole wall.  “These are amazing,” I remember saying to Lester. And he just beamed.

As a painter, Lester captured not just the appearance of his subjects, but their graceful beauty, as well.  As a soldier, Lester fought for freedom during the Second World War, always prepared to do the difficult, dirty, or dangerous tasks that would test his considerable courage. As a husband and father, Lester loved and supported his family faithfully, and even in his last months, you would be hard-pressed to stop him from talking about his children. As a follower of Jesus Christ, Lester led a life of quiet, yet durable faith.

This same faith makes our time together this morning a time of celebration, even in the midst of pain and grief. We celebrate because we know the promise of God to be with us always, the promise fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We celebrate because, as Paul says in the lesson Gordon read a few moments ago, “Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We celebrate because Lester has passed through the doorway of death and into glorious new life, walking hand in hand with God.

And yet, that is also why we grieve. Lester has passed through the doorway of death, and we remain on this side of the door. We will follow in our own time. But for now, Lester’s calm presence, his hand on the tiller of the sailboat, his brush on the canvas have moved on. He was on this earth for 96 years, which is more time than most of us will receive. Judging by the people in this room, whose lives Lester touched – whether over just two years like mine or over sixty like Dot’s – those 96 years were spent building lasting relationships, passing on his working man’s wisdom, and bringing beauty to this world.

At age 96, Lester was “getting on in years,” as our reading from the Gospel according to Luke says of Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth, who, Luke also notes, is “barren.” Now, there are patterns in the Bible, and one of those is that if the narrator ever says something like “was barren and getting on in years,” then you can count on what will happen next. Miraculously, Elizabeth becomes pregnant with the child who will grow up to be John the Baptist.

Now, I’m fairly certain this particular passage from the Gospel, which was Lester’s favorite by the way, has never, ever before been read at a service like this one. The suggested readings for today’s service include no selections about the beginning of life. But you can’t really blame the people who selected the suggested readings; after all, we are gathered here because Lester has reached the end of life.

But maybe Lester’s favorite Bible story has something to say to us about the end, because the end of life is really just another beginning. The end of Lester’s life is the beginning of his experience of the new, radiant, expansive, and eternal life that God offers to all people. Each one of us is living that kind of eternal life right now. We just have trouble seeing ourselves as God sees us because our radiance becomes tarnished by the mileage on these earthly bodies.

But on Tuesday, less than a week after his 96th birthday and his and Dot’s 66th wedding anniversary, Lester entered into his radiant new life. Like with Elizabeth, God fulfilled God’s promise to bring new life to God’s servant through the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And still, we haven’t gotten to Lester’s favorite part of the story yet. When Elizabeth is in the middle of her pregnancy, her cousin Mary visits her with some astonishing news. Mary is also pregnant by the Holy Spirit of God. When the two women meet, Elizabeth feels the baby in her womb leap for joy because, even then, her son recognizes the nascent Christ in their midst.

I wonder how high Lester leapt for joy when he met the Risen Christ on Tuesday evening. I wonder what kind of radiant hues he now has access to that he couldn’t imagine before. Could he now be brushing his canvas, not with paint, but with light and grace and joy? I wonder what kaleidoscope of art will meet our eyes when we wander into his heavenly studio after we too leap for joy upon meeting face-to-face with our Lord.

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