Deuteronomy 34:1-14, Divorce, Funerals, Proper 25A

The Whole Land

She asked me a few weeks before, his stepdaughter, a member of my church. Would you come to the hospital and see my mother’s husband? He’s dying.

I went. I learned, first on the cardiac floor and later in Special Care, of the second marriage, the two families of children, the disputes between the tribes in the early years and the quiet detente later. I heard all about the beloved dog who came to visit in the hospital, a sign that there would be no recovery.

And I really didn’t have a chance to know him, except through their stories and a few quick visits, and the relationship built in prayer–the family gathered around the bed holding hands and the hurried mentions in the car and the solemn requests made in church. One of the prayers murmured, off the record, was that no one would fight over him at the end.

It was my first funeral, and I echoed that prayer, fervently.

Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the LORD showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain — that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees — as far as Zoar. The LORD said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” (Deuteronomy 34:1-4, NRSV)

This is what we read at his graveside service.

The end of Moses’ life seems so wistful. He was forever being called to the high ground to meet with the LORD. Against his better judgment, or his stubborn wishes, he went along with what God asked him to do. Left in charge of a squabbling nation, he went back to God over and over asking for help and guidance. Overwhelmed by his responsibilities, he trained up other leaders to assist him in carrying the great weight. And in the end, all he got was the long view.

It was my first funeral, and I prayed that the family would not break apart further in the emotion of the moment.

Then, sometime in the last day or two of his life, his children and stepchildren gathered together, finally. They stopped pretending that life goes on forever, that grudges can be held without harm being done to the grudged and the grudging. In a muddy cemetery, so wet we had to walk across boards to the place we would speak words over their father, they all had the same wish: to support his wife and to honor him.

It took them a long time to forgive him for making a new family, for remaining loyal to the old one, the concerns of children carried into full middle age. But their love for him at the end–the reconciliation of two sets of grown-up offspring and the gathering of one family–felt like a glimpse into the Promised Land.

Children's Word, Funerals, John 11:1-45

When Jesus Cried

(Last week I led a Celebration of Life for a woman who was the mother of two school-aged children. After some discussion with her husband and other family members, I suggested we have a Time for Children as part of the service. Here is what I wrote and shared that day.)

Long, long ago, when Jesus was living on the Earth, he had three very good friends, who were two sisters and a brother. The sisters were named Mary and Martha, and the brother was named Lazarus. Now, Lazarus got very, very sick. He was so sick that his sisters were afraid he might die. They sent word to Jesus, but by the time he got to their town, Lazarus had already died. His sister Mary was crying. His sister Martha had been crying, too. They were both very sad, because they loved their brother very much. When Jesus saw them, he cried, too. Crying is a good thing to do when we’re sad. If we didn’t cry, we would still be holding onto the feelings that come out with our tears.

Jesus and his friends cried. But they didn’t just cry. Mary and Martha felt all kinds of upset. Martha even yelled at Jesus! Sometimes when someone we love dies, we feel sad *and* angry. Jesus still loved Martha even after she raised her voice, because that’s how it is between friends. When our friends are sad because someone has died, one of the best things we can do is just listen to how they are feeling.

And I want you to know it’s okay to be angry, just like it’s okay to be sad.  When you feel angry, you can tell someone you trust. Just remember you’re not angry with them! Sometimes when we’re angry – well, almost every time – we can feel it all over our bodies. That’s a good time to go for a walk or a run, or to ride your bike really fast (just be sure you put on your helmet…) or to punch a pillow, or even to ask a grown-up if you can hammer something.

Just be sure to talk to somebody. Even if you can’t tell them too much about why you’re angry, the people who love you will want to help.

You can talk to them, too, if you don’t understand why this happened. I think we’re all wondering about that. We understand that people’s bodies sometimes get sick and don’t get better, but it doesn’t seem fair when it happens to someone who is so kind and loving. I don’t think God likes it either. 

Today we’re going to hear stories about ____ and ____’s Mom, about things she did and people she loved, especially ____ and ____ and their dad. Today those stories might make us cry a little, but the next time we tell them–and maybe even today–we may start to feel like smiling when we remember her. And that’s okay, too. Even today.

God sent Jesus to be with people and help them because God loves us so much and wanted to be closer to us. And God will understand how we’re feeling today, because God remembers what it was like the day Jesus cried about his friend.

One of the ways we can feel closer to God when we’re sad, or we’re angry, is to pray. We close our eyes and make our minds quiet, and then we talk to God. It’s okay to pray out loud or to pray quietly, so that only God can hear. Let’s pray together.

O God, we thank you for loving us, even when we are angry. We thank you for loving us, especially when we are sad. Help us to talk to you and to talk to each other about the way we are feeling. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Funerals, Grief, Politics


He glamoured me, a little girl quiet as she could be at the top of the stairs, waiting for the moment to creep down and peek around the corner to see him. Maybe he wasn't the best Kennedy, but he was the one at my house that night, the one we had left, come to ask my daddy to vote for him in the race to be Majority Whip in the U.S. Senate.

He couldn't have been larger in my imagination. I didn't know anything about him except that he was one of them, the uncle of the children on the Christmas card we got from Hickory Hill, the ones pictured hanging onto a funny car, the children whose daddy had been killed that summer. I watched the film clips of their family over and over again. My mother and daddy rode on the train the day of their daddy's funeral.

But in the moment of being glamoured, I did not think of all those children whose names I had memorized from the Christmas card. 

Some people just shine.

As a little Washingtonian girl, I could not help hearing about Chappaquiddick, and over the years I read the stories about his life, so unseemly. The world began to revel in dirty stories about the famous. The world changed, old ways blown apart.

Fifteen years after the Senator came to my house, he was still in the Senate, while my daddy had moved on to other things. I went to a job in the Senate Library, a little hole in the wall of the Capitol, just down the hall from Senator Kennedy's hideaway office. We knew when he had someone to lunch, and every now and then you might be in the hall when his door opened.

In a world where everyone owns every connection possible, I could not speak to him. The glamour overwhelmed me.

Of course it didn't protect him from suffering. He did things, not nice things, perhaps in an attempt to ease his pain. Who wouldn't have things to forget after so much loss and
trauma? How many people survive such things unmarked?

I don't know when I stopped thinking of the Senator as a tabloid headline and started regarding him as a leader who cared about people and did good things for them. Fifteen years ago? Ten? Glamour, a charm that is nearly magical, covers sins and mistakes, and
for Senator Kennedy, it surely did. Last year he loaned his glamour to another Senator, hopeful that the country could move into a new era.

He knew a person could.