Memorial Service for Helen Morris
First United Methodist Church
November 23, 2016
I feel incredibly honored (and yet undeserving) that grandpa has asked me to speak here for grandma’s memorial service. “Grammie” to me, of course; to others of you: mom, sister, wife, friend – but to all of us, a dearly loved and beautiful person. It has not escaped me the incredible privilege it is to be able to provide the reflection for the memorial service from grandma – what is the remembrance of her life; and that of such an incredible individual.
Grandpa has asked me to speak on what he and others often refer to in our Christians scriptures as “the love chapter,” that being the 13th chapter of Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth.
With the deepest sort of affection in his voice, he said, “Kirk, would you please speak on the ‘love chapter’? Would you speak on the ‘love chapter’ and relate it to us?” And I knew exactly what he meant. He didn’t need to say anything else.
Why the ‘love chapter’? Because its such a vivid reflection of the love my grandparents had for one another, but also because it identifies the sort of spirit grandpa, as well as everyone else here, experienced in my grandmother.
So, grandpa, I hope that I’m able to say the words that you yourself would want to say about grandma. (And I hope I honor grandma by making sure I use proper English.)
We like to joke that as you get older you’re getting more emotional. And I know that can sometimes make it hard to say the things you want to say when those emotions become so strong. … But I don’t necessarily think you’ve gotten more emotional. I just think we’re getting to see the sort of deep affection that’s been there all along. You got a big heart, grandpa. And I’ll try to do that justice.
1 Corinthians 13
4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends. … 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
This is the sort of love that my grandparents had for one another. (Grandpa, you’ll have to pardon me for using the term “old.”) But they were that couple every other couples wants to become when they get old – more in love today than they were the day they got marriage. Grandma would scold papa for eating something he shouldn’t have, and he’d give her that pouty face that he does. Seconds, later he’s blowing her kisses.
Grandma poured her soul into caring for grandpa. I mean, when grandpa was diagnosed with Celiac, she dove right in, learning the ins and outs of the science that is gluten free cooking.
And this is the sort of love that grandma showed everyone she met. I imagine we could go one by one through this room and share stories about her hospitality, sacrifice, and care. –Stories like that one’s already shared (or: to be shared) by my mother and [others]. She was always caring for others, concerning herself with others, sacrificing for others.
Even in her passing, it’s almost like she was going out of her way to watch out for others. I mean, yes, there’s a unique difficulty in her passing right before the holidays. There’ll be that empty chair this year; and we’ll miss her. But even in the timing of her passing, she went right at the moment when we would all be together, to be here for one another.
… But even with that, her passing will not be easy. And as much as we want to come together and make the focus a celebration of her life, and be positive, still the only reason we’ve come together today is because of the ending of that life we wish to celebrate.
Death is hard. And I don’t think we should brush over it. There’s something honest and healthy about owning up to death and dealing with it squarely.
As the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes tells us in 7:2, “It is better to go to funerals than to parties.” Why? “Why on earth would it be better to go to a funeral than a party? You must be mad.” But hear what he says: “For this [i.e., death] is what awaits all of us. Those who are still alive should think seriously about that.”
Death is something that awaits us all. Just like all those board games I played with grandma over the years, when the game is done, all the pieces go back into the box. You don’t get to take anything with you. Death puts a seeming end to it all.
And that’s a sobering prospect. As much as we may find the topic to be an uncomfortable, ignoring it isn’t going to make it go away. It’s something we should think about.
Death is an incredible reminder that things are not right in this world. Death is universally typical; but, as a Christian – and as one speaking from the faith to which my grandmother adhered – it is my firm conviction that death is not “normal.” Death is not the way it should be. It is an intrusion into God’s good creation resulting from our disobedience to him.
And, so, as much as we want to celebrate grandma’s life, we mourn and are angry with the reality that is death. As Jesus did at the death of his own friend, Lazarus, we weep.
You see, death is that great reminder that things are not the way they should be, that because of our sin, because of our deep-seating rebellion against God, we are broken. As the apostle Paul said in Romans 6:23, “The wage that we all get for our careers of sin, death.”
And this – death – is a fate that now lies before all of us. …
But our hope – our only hope from this death, the only hope my grandmother has in overcoming this state of death someday – is the good news about this guy named Jesus, who, as the Bible tells us, is God become a human being for the very purpose that he might take upon himself this human predicament (death), face it square in the face, wrestle it down, and, through his own death on our behalf, deal death itself a deathblow, achieving resurrection-life for us through his own resurrection.
As Paul said in his letter to the Thessalonians in chapter 4, “Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again from death (thereby defeating death), even so we who believe in Jesus will be raised again because of his resurrection for us.”
And so Paul says, “We grieve. But we do not grieve as others. We do not grieve without hope.” Because if we are believers, if we are trusting in Christ alone for our rescue from sin and death, we have the hope of resurrection… because of his resurrection.
This is the gospel. This is the heart of what we believe as Christians – on easy days, and on hard days like this: deliverance from sin and death for all who lean wholly on Jesus for their rescue.
Trust in him. Trust in him. Death is a fate we will all face. Your only hope for rescue is him.