Saturday, November 10, 2007

Funeral Sermon for Elizabeth Mallery Korsgaard

Funeral Sermon for Elizabeth Mallery Korsgaard
Grace Episcopal Church, Madison NJ
November 10, 2007

Wisdom 3:1-5, 9
Lamentations 3:22-26, 31-33
John 14:1-6

Grief is the Price We Pay for Love

Today’s second lesson, from the Book of Lamentations, powerfully reminds us that grief and love are joined together. This gathering today powerfully reminds us that grief and love are joined together.

This has been a time of tremendous grief. Beth, of course, had been sick on and off for quite some time, but her death came much faster than pretty much anyone expected. Her family grieves, and a whole community grieves too. How powerful and moving that hundreds of people took the time to come to the funeral home to honor Beth and to support her family during this time of grief. And now all of us are gathered here in this sacred space to honor Beth and to support her family.

We grieve because a wonderful, loving person has died. I actually only got to know Beth in the last days of her life. Meeting her, getting to know her, was an amazing experience. I’ve told some people, I feel like a much longer friendship was compressed into a very short period of time. In just a few days and under difficult circumstances, she and I connected and became friends.

When I shared with Mark this sense of connection I felt with Beth, he nodded with a slight smile and told me that this was a common experience when it came to Beth. She connected with people. She genuinely cared about how you were doing. More than one person has recalled that when you talked to Beth you got the sense that she gave you her full attention. Almost everyone has noted Beth’s many walks around town – and how she made friends up and down the streets of Madison, spreading love and joy. Beth always remembered to ask after a sick friend or relative, even as she carried the burden of her own illness.

So we grieve because this wonderful, loving person has died. We grieve because Beth has died – this person with a keen intelligence; this person who was filled with love of her family; this person who was filled with a love of life. This person who was filled with love for children, for the community, for literature. This woman who lived with love and joy.

So our church this afternoon is filled with grief – but hopefully not only grief – because grief and love are joined connected. Another Elizabeth, Queen Elizabeth II of all people, captured this connection very well when she once said “Grief is the price we pay for love.”

Grief is the price we pay for love.

The first day I met Beth at Morristown Memorial Hospital I asked her what kept her going through so much pain and suffering. She didn’t miss a beat, looked at me right in the eye and said it was her faith that kept her going. Now, the truth is that sometimes people will say that to people like me because they think it’s the right answer, or the answer that a member of the clergy wants to hear.

So the next day when I saw Beth again I asked her to say more about how her faith supported her. She shared with me how she felt God’s presence with her as she faced all the tests and treatments, the pain and the fear.
And the presence of God that she felt was love. She felt love. This divine love that she felt didn’t come in the form of visions or a booming voice from heaven. This divine love that she felt in came in the form of her family and friends who loved her and supported her. The people who held her hand, cried with her, laughed with her, grieved with her. Just as Beth had been a sign of God’s love for so many now she was comforted by the love of so many.

Grief is the price we pay for love.

She and I talked about how even God seems unable to separate grief from love. Right at the start of our tradition, there’s that poignant image of God wandering through the Garden of Eden looking for his beloved Adam and Eve, who were hiding in shame. Grief is the price God pays for love. God becomes one of us in Jesus – whose life was filled with betrayals and disappointments by those he loved. Grief is the price God pays for love. And finally human beings reject God and nail God to the cross. Grief is the price God pays for love.

But the Christian story, and the story of Beth Korsgaard, is that love wins. Grief is the price that God and we pay for love. But as the author of Lamentations writes, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end.” Yes, we experience the grief of Good Friday but in the end we celebrate
the love of Easter Sunday.

Beth understood that grief is the price we pay for love, but her whole life points to the power, the indestructibility of love. All the love that she poured out into the world has not died, but will live forever.

Beth’s journey has come to an end. Beth’s journey that began in God’s imagination, her journey that was lived out right here in Madison, has come to an end in the place that Jesus has prepared for her. Beth is home with God forever.

But you and I, we’re not home yet. We’re still on our journey. How will our journey end? Will we face the end of our lives with the same kind of confidence and peace that Beth knew? Or will we be filled with doubts and regrets? What will it take for us to live the best lives that we can?

Only we can answer those questions. We can look to Beth as an example, as a role model. We can look to Beth as someone who knew the way. If we open our hearts to God we can be like Beth and deeply love our families and friends. We can be dedicated to our community. We can live a life of love and service.

It’s not too late for us, there’s still a ways to go on our journey. So let’s all honor Beth by remembering her, but more importantly, by following her example. Grief is the price we pay for love, but let’s love anyway. Let’s go for long walks and share love and joy with the world. Let’s be like Beth.