Homily for Saturday, October 17th, 2015 || Celebration of the Resurrection and Thanksgiving for the Life of Elizabeth Cogswell Knox || Isaiah 25: 6-9; Psalm 23: 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:9; Psalm 42; John 14:1-6 || The Rev. Margot D. Critchfield
I am so grateful that Liz’s family chose Psalm 42 as one of our psalms this morning, and that we got to pray it together, as a people gathered in grief. I’m grateful because Liz knew the power of words, knew their potential to hurt or to heal, to clarify or to confound, to open up new worlds, new ideas, new feelings. And I’m grateful because the psalms give us the words we need to pray when there simply are no words. Because Psalm 42 is what’s known as a lament psalm—a psalm that moves from words of lament, to words of remembrance, to words of praise and thanksgiving. And it is so absolutely appropriate for where we are today.
Because even though the liturgy for the dead is considered an Easter liturgy in our tradition—meaning that it is rooted in hope and in our faith in the promise of new and better life in Christ—the truth is, many of us are just not there yet.
It is too soon…
Liz was too young…
And we are too raw…
We need to lament.
As Liz’s family, friends, colleagues, and co-workers, we need to take our place among all the faithful before us, who like King David and the prophet Jeremiah…the apostle Paul and Jesus himself, have cried out in their confusion, their despair, and their grief, with words of lament like, “Why, God? Where are you, God? How could you, God?”
These are profoundly faithful questions. They do, after all, presuppose that God is present, hearing and listening, and with us in our pain. So they are words that must be given voice—must be spoken out loud—if we are to move, as does the psalm itself– from a place of lament, to one of remembering, to one of praise and thanksgiving.
So we lament: We are brutally honest with God about our grief, like the heartbroken have been for centuries. We despair that the life of one so gifted, with so much yet to do and to share and to experience has been taken from us so soon.
“My tears have been my food day and night, while all day long they say to me, ‘Where now is your God?'”
We lament and we remember. We remember Liz’s wisdom and wit…her grace and composure…her creativity and intelligence. In just a few minutes, we’ll remember Liz with help from Sam, Paran, Lucy and Phoebe…all of whom obviously knew her much more intimately than I. I remember things like how Liz never wasted her words. How she was thoughtful and judicious— careful, but confident. “Think before you speak,” Fran Lebowitz famously said, “and read before you think.” Add to that a few additional instructions to listen, observe, and reflect deeply, and you’ve got the key, I think, to both Liz’s wisdom and her humor.
Liz is the only woman I’ve ever known who could walk into a room wearing crazy-colored striped, polka dotted, or paisley tights, and maintain a bearing of elegance and the carriage of a queen. The only woman I’ve ever known whose response to a dreadful diagnosis like renal cancer could be one of what I can only describe as transcendent gratitude. She had such un-common sense and spot-on insight.
Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul? And why are you so disquieted within me?
So we lament and we remember.
We remember Liz—and then, like the psalmist, we remind ourselves of God, and we remember God’s promise to swallow up death forever and wipe away the tears from all faces. We remember how he became one of us in Christ, and promised to come again and take us to himself– so that where he is, we may be also. We remember how he loved us so much that he was even willing to take on death itself and undo it, just for us, so that incredible women like Liz whose bodies are taken over by disease would know they were going to be made whole, know they were going to be made new, know that “when their earthly tent was destroyed” they would have “a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens,” —- and, so that one day, ordinary people like you and I could gather together in our grief to lament, and to remember, knowing we will one day find words of praise and thanksgiving.
But we’re not there yet.
It is too soon.
Liz was too young.
And we are too raw.
So for now we lament and remember, and it is enough. The praise and thanksgiving will come, by God’s grace, in due time. For now this is where we need to be–a people gathered in grief, bound by love, weeping for Liz, and trusting in the power of hope. Amen.