Funeral Homily

2 Corinthians 4:16 – 5:9

A Free Spirit

A funeral homily for a free spirit

A Free Spirit

2 Corinthians 4:16 – 5:9

By The Rev. Charles Hoffacker

For many of us, the last several days have been full of memories of Jeanne.  We have been recalling moments in her personal life, and in her relations with each of us.  We have been remembering her participation in the life of this parish and this community.  The many ways she was of service to Port Huron have come to our attention once again.  Whether family member or friend, whether our acquaintance was a matter of many decades or only a few years, we have been remembering this woman, and giving thanks for her long life lived well, and for what she contributed to each of us and all of us together.

Yesterday at the funeral home it was illuminating for me, and I think for others, to see displayed there documents and photographs that bore witness to Jeanne’s life, especially to those periods before I made her acquaintance.

And it was for me a significant coincidence to go last Friday night to McMorran to see a figure skating show there at that facility for which Jeanne had provided leadership.

In such ways as these it is good and salutary, in this time of grief and loss, to look to the past with gratitude.

Yet what makes final sense of Jeanne’s life is not anything she did or anything she was.  What makes final sense of her life is not any golden moment we remember or hear about, no matter how precious.  What makes final sense of her life so well lived–and the life of any of us–is simply this: the grace of God.

That grace was with her in her life.  It was with her in her death.  Now, we trust and pray, it bears fruit in the fullness of eternal life.  And so we do well today to remember and cherish the past, but also to recognize in that past the glimmers of grace that point ahead to eternal life.

We are right to mourn and grieve, yet the Christian message is an admonition not to grieve as those without hope.  The ground for this hope is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, which is the first fruits of a general resurrection, a promise of life eternal and unconquerable.

Christian faith declares that what God’s grace makes real for the faithful departed is not only deliverance from earthly pain, and reunion with loved ones who have gone before, but an exhilarant existence whose center is the only true center of all things, the throne of God and of the Lamb, Jesus Christ.  Human fulfillment lies past this earthly life, and is found in what the Christian tradition calls the vision of God.

Jeanne bore witness to this truth in several ways.  She did so for years through her faithful attendance at the early Sunday Eucharist at St. Paul’s, for what is the Christian Eucharist if not an anticipation of that vision, a foretaste of the eternal banquet?

She also bore witness to the truth beyond this world through two characteristics I want to mention.  One was her intelligence.  The other was her wit.

Jeanne was an intelligent, thoughtful person who loved to penetrate past the surface to the deeper level of things.  This orientation, which remained hers to the end, bore witness to how life is indeed more than it appears, and how we are called through the mundane to something greater.

Jeanne was also a witty person.  Her humor was very dry, able to recognize accurately human folly and humbug, yet always with gentleness.  She saw the gap between how things are and how they ought to be, and often found comic relief in the differences.  Thus she testified, as do the Scriptures, to our grandeur and our frailty as human beings.

It is said that heaven is the kingdom of love and knowledge.  Her intelligence prepared Jeanne for that kingdom of knowledge where we will see God face to face, and all things in God.

Her humor prepared Jeanne for heaven as the kingdom of love.  There the losses of this life are revealed as something other than final.  Over both folly and tragedy the strong and gentle love of God enjoys a decisive victory, revealing the great finale of all things not as a vale of tears, but as a realm of laughter.

One point more about Jeanne and eternal life.  Did you see the photo that accompanied her newspaper obituary?  It was not the sort of formal portrait that usually appears on that page.  Jeanne was shown with festive sunglasses and a radiant smile.

Yesterday I was talking with someone who had known her far longer than I have, and he volunteered that in times past, Jeanne was something of a free spirit.  I mentioned the newspaper photo.  He had seen it, and agreed that that this depicted her as well as the camera can.

Sometimes the burdens and losses of life weigh heavily on the human heart.  There is from these things, no doubt, something to learn, and the endurance of them can refine the spirit like gold in the furnace.  For Jeanne, all this belongs to the past.  What she experiences at present is the liberty of God’s children to a degree unprecedented in her experience, and it is as a free spirit rejoicing in the luminous presence of God that we can choose to imagine her now.

Copyright 2008, Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission. Fr. Hoffacker is the author of A Matter of Life and Death: Preaching at Funerals (Cowley Publications), a book devoted to helping busy clergy prepare funeral homilies that are faithful, pastoral, and personal.