By ROBERT ECKERT
United Methodist Church
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. “
2 Timothy 4:7 (NIV)
I’m 58 years old. Earlier this week I attended the funeral of a woman of my parents’ generation. Madeline was someone I only knew from the church we both attended. The most you could say of us is that we were good acquaintances, not close friends. Neither did we have a long history; it’s been less than 10 years since I first met her and for the past two years I’ve been at different churches than the one where she was a member. But she had enough of an impact in my life that I didn’t want the occasion of her passing to simply slip by as a momentary item of interest. I wanted to be there when good things were said about her and share with others prayers of thanksgiving for her life.
No one would have noticed if I had not attended. If I ever met any of her children before the day of the funeral, I don’t remember, and most of the others in attendance were also strangers to me. As they arrived and took their seats while old hymns were being played on the organ, I found myself thinking that even Madeline doesn’t know or care that I’m here. Still, it would have been wrong not to attend. Having received gifts of endearing kindness, undeserved respect, generous hospitality, and sincere affection from her, it would have been wrong not to say “thank you.”
Only a quarter of the 252 words of her obituary in the Grand Rapids Press were given to a short chronology of her life; 196 words were required to list her surviving children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren; to give a nod to “numerous in-laws, cousins, nieces, and nephews”; and to acknowledge by name her “special extended family.” Madeline was well-connected. I’ve read that spirituality can be defined as our connectedness to others and the world in which we live. By that definition Madeline was deeply spiritual. In fact, I remember her saying once, “My faith has been a team sport with my own family … we all did it together.”
Somewhere along the line my eyes began to fill with tears, maybe when the pastor officiating at the service was reading Psalm 23, or Romans 8:38-39, “…neither death nor life, … nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God,” or when a family member spoke of Madeline’s devotion and constancy. They weren’t tears of grief, more a wave of mixed emotions of joy and melancholy, and hope and doubt in a moment surrounded by reminders of the beauty and fragility of love and grace.
Dylan Thomas notwithstanding, thank you, Madeline, that you did go “gentle into that good night,” the same way that you walked by the light of day. In both life and death you graciously invite others to trust and serve each other and to trust and serve God.