Saturday, June 25, 2016

Like the Garden

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
June 26, 2016

The Funeral of Eden Rahming
Proverbs 3:1-9
Matthew 26:6-13
Like the Garden
            I remember very well the second time I met her.
            It was a Sunday morning, early in my time as pastor here, back when I was struggling to remember lots of faces and learn lots of names.
            I knew we had met. I couldn’t forget her face and certainly couldn’t forget her voice, but I couldn’t come up with her name.
            It was right here, as I was greeting everyone after the service, and I said, “I’m sorry, could you tell me your name again.”
            And, patiently and softly, and with that big beautiful smile, she said what I think she said to at least some of you, too:
            “Eden. Like the garden.”
            And, I never forgot her name again.
            Like the garden.
            Pretty much everyone knows the story of the garden, right?
            It’s one of my favorite bible stories because it captures the human experience, the human predicament.
            God loves us so much that God gives us all this goodness – all of this beauty – to appreciate, to enjoy, to love, and to take care of.
            But…because we’re often selfish and disobedient and unfaithful, because we give into temptation, we mess it all up.
            We human beings mess it all up in big ways – poisoning the good creation with our toxins of fear and hatred and violence.
            For me, the most poignant part of the garden story is when the first man and woman eat the forbidden fruit and they are ashamed – ashamed of their nakedness and ashamed that they had disobeyed God.
            They’re so ashamed that they hide from God.
            And, God, who loves them, who loves us so much, comes through the garden, looking for his people, calling out, “Where are you?”
            “Where are you?”
            If you know the story, you know that at the end the first man and woman are cast out of the garden, sent out into the world where they need to work for their food and will know suffering and death.
            If you didn’t know better, you’d think that’s the end of the story of God and us.
            God made us. We messed up. And, God’s done with us.
            But, of course, that’s not the end of the story of God and us - but simply just the beginning.
            Throughout the centuries God has continued, through prophets and teachers, through the glory of nature and the beauty of art, God has continued to call out to us, asking, “Where are you?”
            God has continued to invite us to work with God to transform the world back to the way it was always meant to be, to make the world once again like the garden.
            For us Christians, God’s clearest invitation is Jesus.
            In and through Jesus, in and through his life of perfect love and sacrifice, we see life like the garden.
            In and through Jesus, in and through his resurrection (which, no accident, took place in a garden) we see life like the garden.
            Now, just a quick look at the news tells us that we have a long way to go until we transform the world back to the way it was always meant to be, until we get back to life like the garden.
            But, if we’re fortunate, in our lives we meet people who do answer God’s call, who do their part, maybe more than their part, to make life like the garden.
            Our most aptly-named sister did just that, didn’t she?
            “Eden like the garden” made life for us a liitle bit more like paradise, more like the way things were always meant to be, more like the garden.
            Like the woman in today’s gospel story, Eden gave away what she had in loving service to God and us, her sisters and brothers.
            Often when Eden arrived here in church she wouldn’t even say hi to me. Instead, she’d stretch out her arms wide and simply say, “Fr. Tom. Hug.”
            I used to think she asked because she needed a hug but now I’m not so sure. Maybe she sensed that I needed a hug – or that we both did.  I do know for sure that they were some of the best hugs I ever got in my life.
            Like the garden.
            Eden shared her gorgeous voice so generously here and at Incarnation and NJCU and so many other places, lifting our hearts, bringing tears to our eyes, with such incredible beauty.
            Like the garden.
            Eden was wonderful with children, she loved them and they loved her – and, you know, kids can tell who’s the real deal and who isn’t. I remember her working so wonderfully with our camp kids and remaining a calm center during the chaos of the Christmas pageant, helping to create something wonderful for everyone present.
            Like the garden.
            And, I’ve been so moved these past couple of so sad weeks by the outpouring of love, grief, and generosity from the family that she created here in Jersey City, so many classmates and sorority sisters and parishioners who love her so much, who know just how good it is to be her friend, to love her and be loved by her.
            Like the garden.
            Now, for Eden, it’s not “like the garden” anymore.
            No, right now, our sweet sister is experiencing the real thing. She’s in the garden with God where all her disappointments and fears and hurts are healed forever.
            God no longer calls out, “Where are you?” to Eden and Eden no longer needs to search for God.
            You and I, though, we aren’t there yet.
            No, we’re still feeling that same shock of loss like when the first man and woman seemed to have lost Eden forever.
            But, this isn’t the end.
            It’s just the beginning.
            God is still calling us, calling us right now, calling out to us, “Where are you?”
            Right here and now, God is calling us to follow Eden’s example, to continue her work, to pour out our ointment, to give away our lives lovingly and beautifully, to do our part, maybe even more than our part, to transform this broken world into what it was always meant to be.
            Eden. Like the garden.