Saturday, February 1, 2014

At the Burial Office, for Sandy Ferguson

Sandra Kay Ashcraft Ferguson
May 13, 1949 - January 14, 2014

Jesus speaks to his disciples in the 14th chapter of St. John:  “Whither I go, ye know, and the way ye know.”  He says this in the night of the Last Supper, with the whole story of Good Friday and the Cross about to play out for him and for his friends, and for all of us, at all times and in all places, unfolding in our hearts and imaginations generation after generation.  You know where I’m going, and you know how to get there.

It is very much for me--and I know I would be speaking for every one of us here—very much an honor and a privilege to share this afternoon in this service for Sandy Ferguson.  To remember her life in all its richness.  Daughter, Sister, Wife, Mother, Co-worker, Mentor, Friend.  In her work and career, in the life of her family, in all her creative interests.  Especially to share in the sorrow of loss with Bob, with Linea and Rob, with all of you, family and friends.  As we offer together the prayers of the church, not just as we say the words but as we gather the faith and life and witness of the whole Christian family and offer the deepest knowledge and desire of our hearts to almighty God.  As we hear the words of scripture, the psalms, the lessons, the Good News of Jesus Christ.

“Whither I go, ye know, and the way ye know.” You know where I’m going, and you know how to get there.

In the ten years that I’ve known Sandy, since she and Bob moved here from Chicago,  there has been so much that has impressed me about her, so much about her and about her friendship that I have enjoyed.  Her warmth, her generosity, her wonderful hospitality—and how much she enjoyed filling the table with great food and welcoming friends from the neighborhood, the church, family.  For the Super Bowl, or for a Summer Book Discussion evening.  Her smile and her laughter.  And thinking about those Book Discussion evenings, her thoughtful insights and careful reflections.  Thinking about how much she enjoyed her work—just the perfect blending of gifts and personality and knowledge in the care of others.  And then when she retired, thinking about the way she continued with such creativity, such wonderful work with arts and crafts.  Thinking about her interests coming together in the neighborhood holiday arts and crafts boutiques that she organized for us all here at St. Andrew’s.  About the interest and enjoyment that she felt in the service and ministry of our parish Altar Guild—the great friends she made here in that work, the good humor of her work, the care and diligence in the preparation of the altar.  

A woman of prayer and steady faith.  Not exactly a starry-eyed mystic, perhaps, but who knew deeply and experientially the presence and care of God.  As we’ve said in sharing stories, a woman who had heard the voice of an angel.  And how that faith sustained her through this long illness.  Knowing Christ as Lord and Savior, confident that with all the ups and downs of doctors and treatments she was always secure in his hands.

“Whither I go, ye know, and the way ye know.”  You know where I’m going, and you know how to get there.  Jesus is talking to his disciples about something more than what we might call our religious opinions and theories, our interpretations, our theological positions or understandings of various issues and concerns of the day.  What Jesus is talking about is a deeper kind of knowing than that.  The kind of knowing that we talk about when we say that a child knows his mother.  It’s about relationship, connection.  About the word we use in the Church with real meaning and sincerity: about faith.  About being in relationship with God deeply and securely.  “You know where I am going, and how to get there, because you and I are going to the same place, returning to the same home, to that mansion that the Father has prepared for us.”  To hear again, “I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am, there ye may be also . . . .  I am the way, the Truth, the Life.  No man cometh unto the Father but by me.”  It may seem on first appearance that we’re traveling alone, but that’s not the case.  He is with us every step of the way, every hour, every minute.

Remembering--Bob, Rob, Linea-- the afternoon we shared Christmas Communion together around Sandy’s bed in the hospital, just a few weeks ago, as she was over and over again covered with prayer and anointed with holy oil, to hear assurance of God’s blessing. 

“The Almighty Lord, who is a strong tower to all who put their trust in him, to whom all things in heaven, on earth, and under the earth bow and obey: be now and evermore your defense, and make you know and feel that the only Name under heaven given for health and salvation is the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

A word for Sandy that comes to my mind with clarity as I think about this illness, and with thanks for all the doctors and nurses and all the caregivers who have been a part of this story, and especially in these past months-- the word for Sandy is courage.  And I know I think all of us who walked a little bit of that road with you, Bob, Rob, Linea, I think all of us saw this, felt this, experienced it.  In you, in all the family, and most especially in her.  Not that there weren’t tender moments, or not that times of hope and encouragement weren’t also followed by anxiety and discouragement.  But courage.  A word that comes from the word for heart.  And in all those hours, all those days, we so clearly could see her great and generous heart.  A courageous life.

The Funeral Sentences from the ancient prayers and scripture of the Church, “In the midst of life we are in death.”  Thinking how very fragile we are in this short life.  How precious every day is.  Bob, as you have shared a little about how so much of all the years of your marriage have been distilled in a special and meaningful way in these days.  How precious every day is—the highlights and Red Letter Days, but also the ordinary days, making a home and a life together. 

And so wonderful to see the photos you’ve collected to share just a few reminders of all that.  There is a line in the Psalms, “Lord, let me know my end, and the number of my days.”  But of course we never can know.  Every day is a gift, a real gift—and of course a gift that comes with no guarantee.  Even when we say, “see you tomorrow,” we don’t really know.   And so as we come together hear, to remember, to comfort one another, to give thanks, we might also hear an invitation.  Sandy might be an inspiration for us in this way.  Courageously, with a great and open and tender heart,  to love one another, to enjoy the good gift of the life, the family and friends God has given us.

In the sure and certain hope of life in Christ Jesus, what we all have to be about this afternoon, with memories, with all the sadness that there is—what we all have to be about is to learn to live every day of this short and precious life in the love of God and of one another, serving God and one another, knowing that to be such a privilege.  And putting our hope in him.  Entrusting ourselves and those we love to him.

Jesus said, in my Father’s house are many mansions.  If it were not so, I would have told you.  I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again, and bring you to myself, that where I am, you may be also.  You know where I’m going, and you know how to get there too.  

“I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord.  He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.  And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.”

If you would please stand with me now and we will in the smaller Book of Common Prayer turn to page 53, where we would say together the ancient and timeless Apostles’ Creed, the core affirmation of Christian identity and faith, and after we’ve said the Creed, to remain standing and to turn in the larger hymnal as we would sing together Hymn #  671,  joining our voices here, and I know Sandy will be singing with us in the choir of heaven.  Amazing Grace.

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