Thursday, August 09, 2012

The Way is to Love

Grace Episcopal Church, Madison NJ
August 9, 2012

Funeral Sermon for Gail Shehadi Cross
Habakkuk 3:17-19
Psalm 23
Revelation 7:9-17
John 14:1-6a
The Way is to Love
            As his death approached, Jesus gathered with his friends for one last meal.  Throughout his ministry Jesus had warned his disciples what was going to happen to him, yet they couldn’t or wouldn’t understand, refused to accept, refused to believe, that the one they had recognized and followed as the messiah was going to die.
            But, gathered for what was clearly their last meal together, the truth must have begun to sink in.
            The four gospels give somewhat different accounts of the last meal shared by Jesus and his disciples.
            The passage we just heard comes from the Gospel of John.           
            In this gospel, Jesus reassures the disciples that although he is leaving them, they know the way – they know the way to God – they know the way to the place where they – where we - will all be reunited.
            The Apostle Thomas speaks for all the disciples, speaks for all of us, when in confusion and fear, and, yes, doubt, he asks Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
            And Jesus says: “I am the way…” Jesus tells the disciples – and tells us here today – that in his life, death and resurrection Jesus shows us the way to God.           
            In my imagination I see Thomas and the other disciples later spending a lot of time trying to figure out how exactly Jesus is the way to God. And maybe, especially in times of grief and loss, we wonder about that ourselves.
            How is Jesus the way?
            A big part of the answer, I believe, is found just a little bit earlier in John’s account of the Last Supper.
            John tells us that during supper, Jesus “poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.”
            After he was done, Jesus tells the disciples, “I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”
            There it is: The way.
            Jesus is the way not only when we believe in him, but, more importantly, when we follow his example.
            We are on the way of Jesus – we’re on the way to God – when we follow Jesus’ example of loving service.
            We are on the way when we wash each other’s feet.
            Over the course of her life, Gail Cross washed a lot of feet, didn’t she?
            When Joanne first told me that her mom was sick, I remembered greeting her in our church lobby one Sunday morning late last year. When she told me that she was Joanne Cross’ mother, I said, “Oh, I’m a big Joanne Cross fan!”
            Immediately her eyes widened and she broke into a big smile and said, “I am too!”
            In talking with her family it’s clear that little moment was just a glimpse of Gail’s overflowing love for her family – the love that she shared as best she could in good times and not so good – the love that she shared by being there for them right to the end.
            Both literally and figuratively, Gail was always willing to grab a towel, get on her knees and wash the feet of those she loved.
            But, Gail didn’t just offer this loving service to those closest to her.
            To just about the end of her life, even when she was in great pain, Gail offered loving service to those in need. She gave of herself at her beloved St. John’s in Boonton, she gave of herself to the Visiting Nurses Association, and she gave of herself each time she and her therapy dog “Evie” visited hospitals, prisons and schools.           
            Over and over, Gail was always willing to grab a towel, get on her knees and wash the feet of those in need.
            There it is: the Way.
            As Jesus’ death approached he reassured his friends that, although he was leaving them, they knew the way – they knew the way to God – they knew the way to the place where we will all be reunited.
            Jesus told them, tells us here today, “I am the way…”
            Gail’s journey on the way has come to an end. She has returned to the God who imagined her into being, the God who guided her and supported her in good times and not so good, the God whose love she shared with so many in her life.
            But, for us here today, our journey continues.
            Fortunately, we know the way.
            The way is to love.
            The way is for each of us in our own way to grab a towel, to get on our hands and knees and wash the feet of our family and friends and especially to wash the feet of those who are in need.
            Gail knew that the way is to love.
            And, having seen her example, we know it, too.