Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.’ (John 11:25-27)
Not many people write their own eulogy. Fewer write it to help out their new pastor. Barbara did both. She was just that thoughtful.
So I want to share with you what she wrote:
“This is a service to celebrate the live of Barbara Ann Bitten May, wife to Harry, Mother to Andrew, Steven, Daniel, and Krista; mother in law to Cathy, Linda, Veronica, and Steve; ‘Grandmay’ (I like that!) to Audrey, Catherine, and Robert; and companion to her beloved dog Lily.
She tried to live a good and proper life and she raised her children to do the same. She always thought of her children as her greatest accomplishment in her earthly life. She loved her family dearly. Harry, Barbara, Andrew and Steven moved to CT in 1960, and became Charter Members of St Paul Lutheran Church. Daniel and Krista came along later. (She wanted to remind you of that I think…)
St Paul’s was their church family. Through the years the May family was very active in the life of St Paul. Harry was on council, property committee, lector, usher, and all around handy man. Barbara loved to sing and was in the choir for many years. She was a Sunday School teacher and a member of the Altar Guild (as is evidenced by the number of songs we are singing today). She lived a long and full and happy life. And then she died.”
“And then she died.” That is where Barbara’s eulogy ends.
What she didn’t write was the next chapter of the story.
She didn’t share the part where her kids Andy and Steve Dan and Krista surrounded her with so much love the last few weeks and months, and in those moments before she died. There was an afternoon to gather, say goodbyes, kiss her, hug her, hold her hand, encourage her, be together and ease that journey with such affectionate care and comfort.
On your mom’s behalf thank you for that. Wow. What a witness.
“And then she died” – though very much to the point of the matter – doesn’t quite say enough. It was a peaceful death. One filled with love, and dare I even say joy. It was a holy moment -and I am grateful to having shared it with you. So thanks.
“And then she died.” It isn’t quite what we think of your mom and Grandmay around here either. She was one of our founders. A Charter member of St. Paul. All of this here – would not be possible – without faithful people like your mom (and dad).
Here were people that started a church with some others around an idea.
They didn’t show up with a building plan, or a star mission planting pastor, or a big pile of money to start something new. They sat and prayed. And planned. And made it happen with their own sweat and tears and hard work and faithfulness, and giftedness and a willingness to follow Jesus into the unknown. Wow. What a witness.
They stuck with it when things looked like they might not work out. Or when arguments led half the church to part ways. Or in rebuilding from the remnant a renewed community stronger and more faithful than ever. And it’s not that it has been all clear sailing for St. Paul ever since – we still have ups and downs. We still don’t get it right all the time. We still need to forgive each other and come together when things look uncertain. And we still need to dig deep, to make it happen, to give each other the benefit of the doubt to put our best foot forward and get our hands dirty rather than assume someone else is going to do it – because that is the very DNA this congregation has at its founding.
And that DNA is there because of people like Barbara and Harry May.
So to my sisters and brothers who are here gathered to pay her tribute and remember her fondly don’t let “And then she died” be the last word on Barbara’s legacy for us either – she gave too much to this church for us to go into retreat now.
In addition to writing her own Eulogy, Barbara also completely planned this service. If you knew her at all, that probably doesn’t surprise you.
“And then she died” Was not the message she wanted to leave us with. Lots of singing. Robust songs too. She wanted to sing “Earth and All Stars” – and in her notes it said, “NOT SLOW.” That’s fantastic. Wow. What a witness.
“Earth and all Stars” is a song written for a graduation. Maybe that is what we are doing today. Celebrating her graduation from a life well lived rather than grieving her loss. It is ok to cry mind you. But it’s also ok to smile. To laugh. To clap and move your body.
Because “And then she died” is never going to hold us back.
Here is the thing – listen again to the scripture she picked.
Psalm 121 – Where are goings out and our comings in are always marked by the presence of God. We might forget it. We night not even believe it half the time – but God is with us no matter what. And we are invited to look at the horizon, wherever it rests, and wherever we are – to call upon God as our keeper and helper. Thank you Barbara for reminding us. Wow. What a witness.
“And then she died” is not an end or an emptiness or a loss from which we must cope, but a place, like all other places where God sees us through – even when we least expect it.
Then there is Ecclesiastes 3 – and a time for everything. Yes, even a time for death. We run away from death so much in our culture that we hope it never catches us with us. But it will. It is the way of things. We can embrace it, as Barbara did – plan for it, as Barbara did, live within the time we are given as Barbara did, and simply give thanks for it, as Barbara did. Again to see God as our companion in life and what lies beyond it – as the good and created way of things we too can embrace. And in the midst of it all draw closer to those people and those things of value – like our families that we love and cherish, and a community of faith that gives us strength – to face the realities of a world that is often hopeless, cruel and unjust – and bring some inspiration, caring and peace – to those around us wherever we are.
And then there are these words of Jesus (from John 11)– “I am the resurrection and the life.” Easter hope. New life begins. Not just in the way we always conceive of it – at the time of our death; so that “and then she died” just becomes another trite phrase that gives us a ticket to heaven. No Jesus brings resurrection life to us, here now. So that as Barbara yes, sings triumphant with all the saints in light, but so we too sing with that same joy in the here and now – as if that Easter moment, our resurrection begins here today.
Don’t let, “And then she died” define you. Barbara gives us a much stronger and faithful witness. Grow into the risen life Jesus gives.
Think of how bold of a thing it is – to know the presence of God everywhere in your life; to know your time is growing short but that your will not be abandoned but held in love and embrace, and when putting your funeral together picking the verse that stares into the face of death and proclaims the words of Jesus, “I am the resurrection and the life.”
Wow. What a witness.
Let’s live into it and give thanks for the saints like Barbara who showed us the way. Let’s be bold enough to stand and sing and share some of her joy as we do.
So that at your own funerals (whenever they come) those gathered around us will not only say of us, “Then, we died.”
Rather, let them say of us, what we say of Barbara today. “Wow. What a witness!”