God gives each of us gifts, talents or qualities that, while we can develop and hone them, we did not choose but just seem to be part of the package of who we are. Joan's gift, I think, was energy. It was the first thing that struck me about her. Here was this little old lady in her 80s and yet she radiated this liveliness. She had the wisdom of age but also this spark that made her seem younger than she was. And that was coupled with a sunniness of temperament, and even a pinch of impishness, that just made you love her.
And so it was a real shock when we received the word
that she was no longer with us. We saw and talked with her that
Sunday morning during the service and we enjoyed the coffee hour that
she presided over after the service and then we find out later that
she went into the ER that evening and within a few days, she was
gone. This woman who was everything we could hope to be when we get
to her age seemed to be the very antithesis of death.
And apparently she was always that energetic. After
she met the love of her life, Michael, they built their first home
together, brick by brick. And even though she was a great mother to
her children, Lynn and Michael, she still had the energy to make
clothing, braid rugs, do needlepoint and cross stitch, and teach
ceramics. She also enjoyed cooking, baking, gardening, swimming,
diving, skiing, traveling and entertaining in her home. Did I mention
that she was the manager of two restaurants which she and Mike owned
with her brother Bob? Plus she acted as caregiver to her parents, to
various aunts and uncles and eventually to her husband.
When she and Mike retired to the Keys in 1987, you'd
expect her to take it easy, right? Wrong. Joan volunteered to
establish the Summerland Cove Civic Association, served as its first
president and later as treasurer. She organized the monthly Ladies
Birthday luncheon and the annual February food drive. After Hurricane
Georges, she and Mike also got hundreds of palms planted along the
streets of Summerland Cove. Because she wanted to maintain the
quality of life in Summerland, she also worked against incorporation
of the Lower Keys, against short-term vacation rentals in residential
neighborhoods and against FEMA inspections of downstairs enclosures.
She was also named volunteer of the year for her work at Sugarloaf
School. And several years ago, she took over the coffee hour here at
And so we enter into the paradox of grieving as
Christians. We don't deny the fact of death. We don't deny its power
over our emotions. We don't deny the wound it makes in our hearts. We
deny its permanence. We deny that it is part of God's original plan
for us. And we deny its power over our way of thinking about life.
And yet we cannot deny that we miss Joan. We know
that as Christians we should be happy for her. Any suffering she had
from her grievous injuries is over. And while she is not with us, she
is in the best hands we could hope for, the loving hands of her
heavenly Father. For we who believe, having someone die is rather
like having a loved one go on a long voyage. You are happy for them
because they are off on an amazing journey and a much needed rest
from the trials of this life. And yet, because you will not see them
again for a long time, you are sad. As King David said, our loved
ones will not return to us but we will some day go to them.
We do have memories and those are a comfort and an
immortality of sorts. But they are tinged with the bittersweet
knowledge that no new memories will be forthcoming. This chapter on
our life with her is over. And so once again happiness and sadness
are entwined. We mourn.
And that's OK. It's OK to weep and mourn because
Jesus did at the grave of his friend Lazarus. It's just that, as Paul
said, we do not mourn like those who are without hope. And that hope sustains us. The fact that just because
this chapter is over it doesn't mean that there won't be another.
Every week in the creed we say we believe in the resurrection of the
dead. Because that is God's basic modus operandi. He is the God of
the living. He resurrected his Son. He will resurrect those who are
members of the body of his Son. He will resurrect his wounded
creation. And he will populate it with his people, in new and
improved bodies, our same software, debugged and downloaded to new
hardware, as scientist and Anglican priest John Polkinghorne put it.
Our hope in Christ is living with him forever in a
new creation. Not only new but better. There will be no pain, no
mourning, no disease or death. We will not lose our loved ones there.
That's where we will find them, safe forever. And so the only tears
will be tears of joy, when we join Joan in God's new paradise. And I
don't know about you but I can't wait to see what Joan will have
organized for us when we join her in Christ's kingdom.