Friday, September 06, 2013

On the Way

The Church of the Incarnation, Jersey City NJ
September 5, 2013

Funeral Sermon for Gladys V. Mahaley
Isaiah 61:1-3
Psalm 23
Revelation 21:2-7
John 14:1-6
On the Way
            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.
            Yet, 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 just 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, even when faced with suffering and loss – especially when faced with suffering and loss – we continue to serve others and serve God.
            We are on the way of Jesus when we wash each other’s feet.
            Over the course of her life, Gladys Mahaley washed a lot of feet, didn’t she?
            I first heard about Gladys – about “Aunt Gladys” – just a couple of weeks ago when her niece Dee Dee told me about the trip she and Gladys were making out to Milwaukee to celebrate the 70th birthday of Gladys’ beloved son, Hoyt.
            I remember thinking how great it was for Gladys – and for Hoyt – that, despite her age, she was able to make that long trip, to be present for that great celebration.
            It wasn’t until Gladys died, though, that I learned of her long, long widowhood. I’ve been thinking and praying about what it must have been like for Gladys, a young mother, to get the news that her beloved Hoyt had been killed in valiant service of our country.
            What must it have been like to receive Hoyt’s Purple Heart?
            What must it have been like as the truth sank in that she was a “Gold Star Widow?”
            What must it have been like to piece together a different kind of life than what she had expected and hoped for?
            I imagine that, in her own way, like the Apostle Thomas long ago, Gladys asked Jesus, “How can we know the way?” “How can I know the way?”
            Of course, we can’t really ever know what goes on in a person’s heart.
            But, you know better than I, that during these decades of widowhood, during her long and full life, Gladys found the way.
            Over her long and full life, Gladys walked in the way of Jesus.
            Over and over, in her own way, Gladys was always willing to grab a towel, get on her knees and wash the feet of her son – wash the feet of her family – wash the feet of those in need.
            And 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…”
            Gladys’ journey on the way began in the water of baptism, when she died and rose again with Christ.
            And now Gladys has completed that long journey – a journey filled with unexpected twists and turns – a journey filled with painful loss and overflowing joy.
            Gladys 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, like Gladys, 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.
            Gladys knew that the way is to love.
            And, having seen her example, we also know that the way is to love.