Today’s homily from Betty Roth’s funeral service at Pilgrimage.
Two months ago, none of us could have imagined this is where we’d be today. Just a couple weeks before she went into the hospital, Betty–as she did every year–volunteered at VBS. I remember thinking on the way out of church that last day, “Betty has way more energy than I do. And she’s still smiling.” How can one who was so vibrant so recently now be gone? It doesn’t seem possible. In our most vulnerable moments, it seems cruel. We want to trust in God’s love and presence….but right now, trusting is very hard work.
How do we make our peace with Betty’s passing? How do we absorb the loss of her sweet spirit…of her fierce love for her family…of her loyal, playful friendship with the rest of us…of her profound compassion for and tireless work in behalf of people in need? How are we going to move forward knowing we won’t see that bright smile and the twinkle in those baby blue eyes ever again?
I’m not going to lie. Making our peace with Betty’s passing is going to be hard. It’s going to be the hardest thing you, John, Clay and Chase, have ever had to do. We saw Betty on Sundays and every other time she helped out with activities here at the church, which was every chance she got. We definitely will miss Betty. Our hearts are breaking. But your whole worlds are changing. Thursday night dinners will never be the same. Holiday and birthday celebrations will be hard, perhaps especially for you, Gavin, who share a birthday with your grandma. Day to day living…it’s going to be difficult. Grieving is going to take time…a lot of time.
As I’ve reflected on Betty’s life, on all she has meant to us, I’ve begun to wonder if the best way to make our peace with Betty’s passing might be to make sure that the best of Betty lives on. Betty’s body has ended its struggle. She is now in a place of love and light, resting in the arms of God. But Betty’s spirit…Betty’s spirit is still here.
Just look at this room! Your presence here today is a beautiful and fitting tribute to Betty’s life…and to just how much Betty’s sweet spirit has impacted our lives. How might we ensure that Betty’s spirit lives on? We can do it by living in the ways Betty lived…
Whenever we smile or laugh or let our eyes twinkle with mischief, Betty’s spirit will live on.
When we support our church community and do everything we can to act the least of these into wellbeing, Betty’s spirit will live on.
When we seek to learn more about the Bible and choose in whatever ways we can to draw closer to God, Betty’s spirit will live on.
When we watch or play tennis, Betty’s spirit will live on.
When we fight with extra vigor for the naughtiest ornament at the Annual Christmas Ornament Exchange (two words—“Naked Santa”), Betty’s spirit will live on.
When we honor and nurture relationships with our friends, Betty’s spirit will live on.
When we take time to be with our families, when we offer them our constant love and support, when we do everything we can to act our families into wellbeing, Betty’s spirit will live on.
When we love our spouse so much that our hearts seem to beat as one, Betty’s spirit will live on.
Still, it’s not going to be easy. Betty’s passing leaves a gaping hole in this church community and the large community of friends she and John have created. Grieving her loss is going to be hard, especially for you, John. As you, as we all try to navigate the difficult journey of grieving Betty’s passing, here are a couple things that might help.
The first is this cross. Our church community created this mosaic cross during Lent this year. Each Sunday in worship during Lent, we brought our brokenness to the cross, represented by pieces of sea glass. A few people named their brokenness; those words are engraved on some of the glass. One shard bears Joshua Derby’s name. Josh died a week and a half after Easter.
Creating the mosaic cross together was a deeply moving experience for our community. The Sunday after Easter, Betty came up to me and said, “Just look what you did, Lady! You created that beautiful cross.” I reminded her that it wasn’t me, but the community that had created it. Then Betty told me, “One Sunday, my whole family went up and we glued all our pieces of glass in the same area. It was so meaningful.” I jokingly said, “That cross has some Roth real estate on it!”
I never learned the address of that real estate, but what a powerful symbol, perhaps especially today. Even in brokenness, the Roth family is together. Even in brokenness, your family clings to its faith and its savior and the God who has loved us, loves us now, and will always love us. Even in brokenness, John, Clay, Chase and Melanie, Gavin and Olivia, even in brokenness, you are surrounded by the love and care of this community of faith and your large community of friends.
One piece of glass on the cross contains these words: “Even broken, it is well with my soul.” That is the prayer of every person here today for you: That even in the midst of the brokenness caused by Betty’s death, it will be well with your souls, especially yours, John. We pray God’s presence, comfort, and peace. We pray for your wholeness.
One last quote as we begin the difficult journey of grief. It comes from Andy Raine of the Northumbria Community:
“Do not hurry as you walk with grief; it does not help the journey. Walk slowly, pausing often: do not hurry as you walk with grief. Be not disturbed by memories that come unbidden. Swiftly forgive; and let Christ speak for you unspoken words. Unfinished conversation will be resolved in him. Be not disturbed. Be gentle with the one who walks with grief. If it is you, be gentle with yourself. Swiftly forgive; walk slowly, pausing often. Take time, be gentle as you walk with grief.”
And John, Clay, Chase, Melanie, Olivia, Gavin, know that as you walk with grief, God walks beside you. As do we.
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.