There’s a famous list in the book of Revelation of things that we will not find in heaven. John says that when we all get to heaven there will be no more death, no more mourning, no more crying, and no more pain. And that is good news of us who are grieving today.
However, there is one more thing on John’s famous list that may be even better news. The very first thing which is on John’s famous list of the things we will not find in heaven is the sea. John says, “and the sea was no more.” Sounds rather odd doesn’t it? For even most of us who live in land-locked Oklahoma have a strong affinity for the sea.
To understand why John includes the sea on this famous list, we need to understand a little something about the book of Revelation. Revelation is a letter of hope written to the church in Ephesus while John was imprisoned on the island of Patmos for preaching the Gospel. At this time, the Christian Church in Ephesus was being persecuted by the Roman government. And John loved the people in Ephesus very much and wanted to be with them and help them through their persecution. But he was on an island, and the sea was the great barrier which separated him from the people he loved.
And John says that one day there is going to be no more sea. That means one day there will be no more of anything that will separate us from the people we love.
I believe these words should be especially hopeful for us today. For we live in a world where there are many seas that separate us from our loved ones.
For many of us the sea is distance, like the fourteen years that Kristin lived apart from her family in Texas. Like with John on that island, sometimes the seas that separate us from our loved ones are miles.
However, one of the greatest seas that some of us experience on this earth is what Kristin has called “a devil of a disease.” Alzheimer’s is a great canyon, a wide gulf, that separates us from the people we love, slowly, painfully, certainly.
Part of Kristin’s grief today is her realization that her husband Don and her son Henry never had the opportunity to know Barbara at her best.
However, she is very grateful that she moved back to Enid with them in 2012, when they noticed her health failing. Kristin, I believe, as I am certain you believe, that this opportunity to move back was truly a gift from God to you and to Barbara.
During this time, Henry was Barbara’s light and joy. Although she could barely get around during this past year, she never missed one of his soccer games. Kristin says, that while on occasion, Barbara might have forgotten who she and Stan were, she never forgot Henry. She would knit him blankets, buy him books, and in nearly every photo that Kristin has of the two them, she is beaming!
While John was separated by the sea from the people he loved in Ephesus, John sent them the Book of Revelation to let them know that God was for them, not against them; God was with them, not away from them. For Barbara, I believe Henry was revelation. Henry was light. Henry was a message from heaven letting Barbara know that, in spite of her deep sea of sickness, she was loved by God.
I believe this teaches all of us this important lesson: In spite of the many seas that separate us from our loved ones, we will never be separated by God.
And this is especially hopeful for us today as we are painfully reminded, that for all of us, the greatest sea we experience on this earth is death.
The good news is: Because we can not be separated by the love of God, John says, one day, there will be no more sea. Some day, some how, some way, there is going to be no more of anything that will ever separate us from the ones we love. Although distance, disease and now death have separated us from Barbara, John tells us that it is only for season. It is not forever.
John says that one day there is going to be nothing which will separate us from Barbara’s love that she had for so many, especially as a wife, mother and grandmother.
One day, there will be nothing more to separate us from the twinkle that was always in Barbara’s eyes. There will be nothing to separate us from the love and appreciation that Barbara had for the gift of life; from the Barbara who loved movies, music, the theater and the arts; from the Barbara who loved shopping and spending time with her daughter in New York City; from the Barbara who loved listening to her ham Stan sing and perform; from the Barbara who dancing with her husband. He might have owned the stage, but she owned the dance floor!
One day, John says there will be nothing to separate us from the Barbara who loved going on what was always longer-than-expected hiking trips with the family, and who loved graciously knitting baby blankets for unwed mothers.
Stan says that it was this act of grace, of knitting blankets for these mothers, that perhaps most touches him about Barbara.
Perhaps it is because that when these mothers-to-be perhaps felt judged and separated by family, even by people in the church, Barbara’s blankets were like a revelation, a light, a sign to these mothers that no matter how alone and separated by others they may feel, nothing can separate them from the love of God.
And it is because of this love that John says that one day there is going to be no more sea.
However, until that day comes, we are forced to live with the reality that we live in a world of seas. A world where there is much that comes between us and those whom we love. I believe it is in these days that we need to cling to the hope that was knitted in each of those baby blankets, that although there is much on this earth that separates us from one another, there is nothing on this earth or in all of creation that can or every will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
I experienced this most fully nearly every time I visited Barbara at Garland Road during these last difficult weeks of her life. I hardly ever walked into her room and found her alone. Stan was always there, faithfully, attentively, lovingly. Always doing whatever he could do to comfort her, to let her know that she was loved and she was not alone.
Kristin calls her parents her role models, an example of how marriage should be. Always there for each other, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, until death.
When we consider the special relationship that Stan and Barbara shared, I believe we can become especially hopeful we consider that the Hebrew Bible often describes Israel as the bride of God and John in his book of Revelation, describes the people of faith “as a bride adorned for her husband.” God loves us with the same faithful love that Barbara and Stan shared with each other.
As Stan was always there for Barbara, doing all that he could do to let her know she was loved, God will do the same for us. God will do all God can do to remind us everyday through countless revelations, numerous signs, that there is truly nothing in heaven and or on earth that can separate us from the love of God.
We will experience this through the love of our family, and through all of the wonderful memories of this sweet woman. These memories are not only Barbara’s gift to, but I believe they are God’s gift to us.
God will stay with us through God’s holy church and through God’s Holy Spirit. God will stay with us and sustain us until that day comes when we see Barbara again, completely, fully, with no seas of separation between us.
One of Barbara’s favorite writers was Kahlil Gibran. I want to close this service with these beautiful words on death:
You would know the secret of death.
But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?
The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light.
If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life.
For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.
In the depth of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond;
And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring.
Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.
Your fear of death is but the trembling of the shepherd when he stands before the king whose hand is to be laid upon him in honour.
Is the shepherd not joyful beneath his trembling, that he shall wear the mark of the king?
Yet is he not more mindful of his trembling?
For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?
Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.