(March 3, 1930 – December 22, 2013)
Gethsemane Cathedral, Fargo
December 28, 2013
John 10: 11-16
+ I cannot begin to express the honor I feel at being able to preach at this celebration of the life of Nancy Thorndal. And, let’s face it, it has been an extraordinary life. It has been a wonderful, exciting, exuberant life. I had the wonderful privilege, as many of here this afternoon had, of saying Nancy Thorndal was a very dear, dear friend. And I am also honored to say she, I am pretty sure, thought the same way of me.
But, my relationship with her was even more than that. I first got to know Nancy when she and Herb very tentatively began attending Gethsemane Cathedral back in about 2000. Back then I was in training to be a priest and was working here at the Cathedral. Later, when Herb was in and out of the hospital, I was doing what was called Clinical Pastoral Education, essentially serving as a student chaplain in the hospital and was able to spend quite a bit of time with Herb and Nancy and the children. Actually we became very close during that time. So close in fact that I began joking with her.
I would say to her “Nancy, I want to be your tenth child.”
Nancy, gave me one of those wonderful, all-encompassing embraces she was so known for, and exclaimed, “I couldn’t ask for anything more. What’s one more kid?”
Considering the fact that we figured out the other day that she would’ve been 39 years old when I was born, it could’ve been a reality.
After that I always said, “I’m the 10th Thorndal child. You know, the one who became a priest.”
Actually, I think some people who didn’t know the joke, kinda believed that. Which made Nancy so happy.
However, having that close of friendship with her doesn’t make preaching at and being a part of this service any easier, let me tell you. Nor was it easy to say goodbye to her just after she left us on Sunday at noon.
As she was dying last week, I went up to see her a couple of times and, although she couldn’t talk, she was definitely communicating with me and, even in the state she was in, I could tell how overjoyed she was to see me. One of things we discussed during those last few times together was the wonderful reality that she was so completely surrounded by love in that moment. And she was. She was surrounded by the love of her children and the love of her many, many friends.
And as I talked with her, I said, “Nancy, you are so lucky. You are going from this place, surrounded by love, to a place of even more love.” To which she squeezed my hand and expressed her agreement with her eyes.
And that love is what we are celebrating today. We are celebrating the love we had for her, that she had for us and the love in which she is now so fully enfolded.
Now, I need to be careful about this. I can just hear Nancy saying (and I wish I could do a better impression of her voice): “Now, don’t make a fuss over me!” Well, dear Nancy in Heaven, I’m sorry but, we are going to make a fuss over you today. You deserve to have a bit of a fuss made over you today. And we need to make a bit of a fuss over you.
This love that we celebrate and for which we give thanks today is something that deserves to be celebrated. And as hard as this day is—and it is a hard day—we also know that it is a day of joy as well.
In our Gospel for today, we have that wonderful passage of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. I know for a fact that this image of the Good Shepherd truly encompasses Nancy’s image of the Jesus that came to her last Sunday around noon. Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Jesus, the one who loves her and who surrounded her in his love that day and is, at this moment, surrounding her—and all of us—in that love. For Nancy, all the pains, all the sorrows of this life, all the tears of this life, are behind her. She is, in this moment, in place of light and joy and beauty.
One of the great privileges a priest often has is that moment in which they are called in and asked to give the last rites to a person. For me, as a priest, as the 10th Thorndal child, as someone who truly loved Nancy, it was a real privilege. It was privilege to anoint her and to absolve her of any sins she may have committed. But the real privilege came in knowing that she was, at that moment, entering the land of joy and light.
Later in this service, Bishop Michael will stand at her ashes and will lead us in the Commendation. In it, we will say,
Give rest, O Christ, to your servant with your saints,
neither sighing, but life everlasting.
That is the place in which Nancy now dwells—a place of life everlasting where there is no more sorrow, where there is no more pain. It is a place in which she now lives. And it is place in which we too will one day live. And I have no doubt that when I get there and you get there, there will be Nancy. And I can just imagine her, so full of life, those eyes blazing with life, coming to us and embracing us and welcoming us to that place.
I will miss Nancy. I will miss our friendship. I will miss that joy she had every time she saw someone she loved and cared for. I will miss being on the receiving end of that love. But I am thankful to God that I got to know her and to be a priest to her and to be her friend and to be her tenth child.
So, let all of us be thankful today for Nancy Thorndal. Let us be thankful for this woman whom God has been gracious to let us know and to love. Let us be thankful for her example to us. And let us be grateful for all she has given us in our own lives.
Into paradise may the angels lead you, Nancy. At your coming may the martyrs receive you, and bring you into the holy city Jerusalem. Amen.