Friday, May 14, 2010

May 15, 2010

Burial Office
Etta Stephenson Clark
December 19, 1911 – May 10, 2010

First of all, I would say simply a word of welcome to all, in this gathering of family and friends, as we offer our prayers for Etta, remembering her today as mother, grandmother, great-grandmother; remembering her in the faithful witness of her beautiful 67 year marriage to Lester—and it’s hard to believe that he’s been gone from us now for what?—nearly eight years.

Remembering Etta as friend, in so many different activities and friendships here in Pittsburgh and I know in Florida for all those years, and then as she cared for her family and community in New York and in the places where you lived along the way, all the way back to childhood in Canada, and to her earliest years. I love the note of her birth in Wyoming in 1911, the year Wyoming became a state.

I think about Etta and Lester and their lives here in Pittsburgh, how I was always so impressed by their affection for one another—and both of them, their wonderful sense of humor, even as life physically became challenging. Their kindness, their intelligence, their spirit of gracious hospitality. Their love for their children and family, those grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I certainly think about even in these very recent years, how Etta was so delighted to sit over in Brooks Hall after church on Sunday mornings and to visit with our children—Josie Gutschow, Lily and Tess Buchanan, Dell Miller. They were just drawn to her. They would show her some art project they had just finished in the Church School, and she would be just delighted to laugh and talk with them over cookies and punch.

I think about how faithfully Mary and Kirstin would bring her to Church week by week, and what a privilege it was, for Jean and me to bring communion to her in her pew, when she could no longer get up to the communion rail. I know there are so many memories. It is a privilege this morning I know for our Deacon Jean Chess and me both, to share in this service with our dear friend and colleague Gaea Thompson, who was such a faithful and attentive and prayerful pastor and priest to Lester and Etta both during their years at Canterbury Place: and Gaea, simple to say thank you for that loving ministry.

In all that: Grace to you and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. It is my prayer that this time, this morning, will be a meaningful and loving time of reflection and remembrance, as we have opened scripture to hear God’s word for us today, and as we gather at the Holy Table to share ourselves in the heavenly banquet—that table where Etta and all the saints and all of us together will feast forever. May it all be a blessing.

Etta turned 98 in this past December, which is an amazing thing to say, to think about. Born during the presidency of William Howard Taft. Her early married years in the era of the Great Depression and the Second War. And living on to the era of space flight and internet and cell phones. Not that I recall ever receiving an e-mail from her . . . . In any case, such a long and gifted life, just about all of a century.

Part of the generation Tom Brokaw calls “The Greatest Generation.” And for me that has to do not so much with the big historical events, but with the hard work of day to day life through such challenging times, and the deep and solid values that made that possible: faith, hard work, family, courage, love of family, neighborhood, and country. They were heroes, some on the battlefields and some at home, but certainly none of us would be where we are today without their sacrifices and their determination. They made possible so much of the greatness of our country over this past century.

And now, from strength to strength, from life here to greater life, as we have been promised, the holy hope that we would affirm today. This wonderful passage from John 14: “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” Modern translations sometimes change this. “In my Father’s house are many rooms.” And in a linguistic and maybe architectural way that makes sense. Houses have “rooms,” after all.

But I’m going to stick with “mansions,” because I think that word directs us to a deeper truth, which is that the future that God has in mind for us, and the eternal life that Etta enjoys, is no ordinary life. It is an eternal life of abundance, and joy, and peace, and fulfillment. To be with Christ, who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Who died for us, and who rose at Easter, and who was lifted to the throne of heaven, who shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead. This is the hope and certainty that was the foundation of Etta’s Christian faith, and it is the promise that we can all hear and receive and share this morning as well.

The opening hymn this morning isn’t one we Episcopalians hear very often, but it wonderful as it speaks to the deep and tender and personal and loving presence of Jesus in our lives, and as we sang it this morning thinking of Etta. The image of course is of Mary Magdalen with Jesus in the Garden on Easter morning, in that moment when she recognizes who he is, not the gardener, but her risen Lord and Savior, as he looks at her and speaks her name. “He walks with me, and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own; and the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.”

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.” And to say simply that Etta is home now, after some difficult years—and I know Mary and Arthur as you have been such faithful children to her, after some challenging days for you too during these last few years. She is home now, in the place our Lord has prepared for her, and sharing the hope we can all share and enjoy this morning and always.

May the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace, and may Light Perpetual shine upon them. As we pray for Etta today. May she rest in peace, and rise in glory. Amen.

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