Ellen Doenges entered life eternal May 9, 2011. Many of you were unable to take part in the service Tuesday, May 17, 2011. Even if you did not know her, you may know someone like her, a true saint of the church who helped you see God.
With her husband Herbert’s blessing, I offer you the sermon:
Grace and peace to you on this day from God our Father,
and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
When I first met Ellen, I discovered very quickly that she was a person of great courage and strength. She was also a person (while soft-spoken) of tremendous faith. She was a very special person. When I learned that this day was coming; that eventually the cancers would catch up with her – I started thinking about this day. I started thinking about what passage from scripture I would use to talk about her.
I immediately thought of the woman who had been sick for many years (Mark 5:25-34). She had heard of Jesus, and went to see if she could touch him. She thought to herself, “If I could only touch him, I’d be made well.” As he passed by she grabbed the hem of his robe, and was healed. Surprised, Jesus turned around to see who had touched him and she told him that she knew if she could touch him she would be healed. He said to her, “Go in peace, your faith has made you well.”
I thought about Ellen and this encounter. And while it reminds me of her I knew it did not quite fit. Even though she died of the complications surrounding her cancers, she had been healed long ago. She knew the savior’s touch, and she was already at peace. I knew that story was not quite right.
Then I thought of the Easter Story as John tells it (John 20:1-18). Mary Magdalene went to the tomb to anoint the dead body of Jesus and instead found an angel who told her that he was not here but had risen. Confused she left the tomb and saw a man standing there in the garden. Thinking he was the gardener she asked him, “Where have you taken my Lord?” Jesus turned around and looked at her. And when he uttered her name, called her by name, then she saw him, and fell to the ground saying “Teacher!” And he sent her out to tell the others.
I thought about Ellen and this encounter too. And it is not quite right either. Ellen has seen the Risen Christ and had been pointing him out to us for years. She knew the Risen Christ who had called her by name her entire life.
Then I visited a Grand Cathedral. Oliver and Caitlyn told this story at the wedding reception Saturday night, but if you don’t know it I will retell the story. They were planning to get married this fall, but when Ellen’s health started to deteriorate they moved their wedding up to this last weekend so that she could be there. Then they called last Thursday. Ellen was slipping away and they asked if they could get married the following day. So Friday, May 6, around 1:00 I got ready and drove to the Doenges house, for the wedding to take place at 1:30.
Everyone was dressed nicely, and it was a somber yet celebrative mood. We gathered around Ellen in her room, the Grand Cathedral. And there she was – dressed in the wedding gown, her mother of the groom dressed she had picked to wear to the wedding that she would no longer be able to attend, but wore it for the wedding that was about to take place. It was a beautiful, elegant, ivory dress. She beamed with joy part of the celebration.
It was not quite Belmont – the town where she and Herbert had escaped to go to years ago to marry, and came home to tell the others “look what we did this weekend,” showing their wedding rings. Yet somehow this moment had come full circle into the joy of that day, in the love of family that surrounded her in faith.
On Monday morning when I got the call, telling me that Ellen had entered eternal life, I scrambled for some clothes and jumped in my car to drive over to the house. On that drive I thought of this passage from Revelation:
“After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, singing, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.’ Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, ‘Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?’ I said to him, ‘Sir, you are the one that knows.’ Then he said to me, ‘These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.'” (Revelation 7:9-14)
This passage is a vision of heaven. The Risen Christ is in the center, he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). The angels surround him. The Elders surround him, and they are all praising God, celebrating the Risen Christ among them. The multitudes from every nation come, and join in the singing. One of the Elders asks, “who are these that are coming?” John who sees this vision has the answer, “They are the ones in white robes, in ivory wedding gowns, who have come out of the great ordeal, in elegant, who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb.” Not only is she there, singing praises to God. She is handing out robes too – to anyone who would take one. What more could we say about Ellen than that? Always helping out of great joy – that we too could be washed in the blood of the Lamb.
As many of you know I send out a weekly email to the congregation and the extended network of people that are part of St. Michael’s. It is a food for thought piece, a midweek devotion, a way to stay in touch and stay connected. When Ellen was still doing well, she often responded to me. She saw them as an interactive exercise. She didn’t use those interactions to complain or dwell upon her failing health – which she certainly could have – she used those interactions to encourage me. To think about how we might help people more and give of ourselves. That was who Ellen was. That is who she still is.
Ellen is in this heavenly scene. She is there in her ivory dress, praising God, having come out of the great ordeal. If you look closely, she is not only joining in the singing, she is passing out robes too, as many as she can, to as many who will take them. Ellen is there, handing a robe to each of us too.
Maybe on this day you have a hard time seeing it. Maybe the sadness runs too deep.
Maybe you are afraid. Maybe you are filled with many questions. Maybe today is your great ordeal.
Fear not. Clear your mind. Open your heart. Believe.
That is what Ellen would want for you. To be washed in the blood of the Lamb.
That is the gift of this day. In the Lamb your robe is washed clean.
Christ is Risen. So is Ellen. So are you.
Let us join her, the angels and the host of heaven in singing his praise. Amen.