Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Memorial service for my aunt, Anna Parsley

The memorial service for
Anna Parsley
(January 5, 1936 - August 29, 2008)
Frederickson Funeral Home
Kindred, North Dakota
September 2, 2008

Anna, as we all knew, suffered greatly from her physical ailments. Her physical body simply failed her in stages for a fairly long time. Certainly, it seemed to me anyway, that within this failing body, this body that betrayed her and often caused her much suffering, there was this vibrant, alive soul. I saw it the last time I saw her a few weeks ago when I visited her in the hospital and shared Holy Communion with her. It was there, in her eyes—Life , bright, vibrant, fiery life. And that’s how most of us are going to remember Anna. As someone who was full of life.

And as someone who was full of deep faith as well. As I was growing up, I always saw in Anna as a great example of Christian strength. I think when most people think about Christians, they think we’re a weak bunch. Jesus told us, after all, that when we’re slapped on the cheek, we should turn the other one. And for some people, that might be a sign of weakness.

But what I have learned is that, yes, when slapped, we do turn the other cheek, but how we turn that cheek sometimes says more than anything. If we turn that cheek with strength and dignity, then it is no longer an act of weakness but an act of greater strength than the slap itself. Anna showed me that a Christian must always turn the other cheek, but that one can turn that cheek with an air of true and abiding strength and character. I have no doubt that she would say it was the German in her that defined her deep and abiding strength.

Certainly, Anna experienced many set-backs in her life. Life was not easy for her and her physical ailments were no doubt difficult and overwhelming at times. They caused her great physical and emotional pain. Life dealt her a series of set-backs—whether physical or emotional or otherwise. But what always amazed me about Anna was that, despite everything, despite the setbacks, despite the physical body that deteriorated around that vibrant, life-filled spirit, she was still able to cling to her faith in God.

And tonight, that faith has been fulfilled. Tonight, she is freed. Tonight, that life-filled, fiery spirit has been freed from those physical constraints and she is truly and, for all eternity, freed. Tonight, she is happy and complete and content and wholly herself.

For us, who are left behind, tonight and these last few days haven’t been as great of days. For us, not having Anna here is very difficult. But the fact is, we who are Christian, don’t get to despair over this fact. Anna would be the first to tell us that. We don’t get to despair or lose hope. We don’t get to throw up our hands and give up. Because we know this life is just a short moment in the grander scheme of God’s plan for us. And we know, like Anna, that giving up is never the thing to do.

So, tonight, although we might be tempted to despair, we really cannot. When looking at these last few days from Anna’s perspective, this has been one great and glorious day without end for her. She has been relieved of her pain and suffering. The weariness and the strain she carried with her has been lifted from her. And she has now become fully and completely herself. Yes, we are sad for this temporary separation. But we are not despairing. Because we know that will all be well.

It will all be well.

I’d like to share a prayer by Julian of Norwich. Julian was a woman who knew a few things about physical pain. She had almost died several times in her life from illness. And yet, even through those moments in which life seemed fragile and frightening, she was still able to pray this prayer. It’s a prayer that Anna certainly could’ve prayed herself and, without doubt, lived it deeply in her own life.

Let us pray.

In you, Father all-mighty, we have our preservation and our bliss. In you, O Christ, we have our restoring and plenty of grace. You are our clothing; for love you wrap us and embrace us. You are our maker, our friend, our keeper. Teach to believe that by your grace all shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well. Amen.

No comments: