As a pastor, I have learned along the way that the only words that are truly appropriate for a Christian Eulogy are words that speak to the ways the person whose life is being remembered actually mirrored or imaged God and the good news of the gospel.
Because in the end, when it is all said and done, it really doesn’t matter how much money we made, nor how many businesses we created, nor how many buildings we built.
The only thing that truly matters is that we somehow fulfilled our human vocation, our holy purpose on this earth, that I believe is revealed in the very first chapter of our Bible: “So God created humankind in God’s image, in the image of God God created them; male and female God created them” (Genesis 1:27).
In the end, what truly matters is how we as human beings imaged God, mirrored God, thus proclaiming to the world with our lives who our God is, how our God acts, and what our God desires.
When Shannon and I visited with Bernice this past Saturday, the day before she died, her children handed me a tiny slip of paper with words that were read at Bernice and Eugene’s wedding ceremony in 1942 in Fullerton California.
I’ll be loving you, always;
With a love that’s true, always.
When the things you’ve planned,
Need a helping hand,
I will understand, always.
Days may not be fair, always;
That’s when I’ll be there, always.
Not for just an hour,
Not for just a day,
Not for just a year,
As her family lovingly gathered around her bedside that day, I had the wonderful opportunity to read those words to Bernice once more and to tell her that as she and Eugene were always there for one another and for their children, God, would always be there for her.
In fact, I said that the Bible often likens the relationship that God has with us to the relationship of a married couple. God loves us with the same personal, intimate, covenantal love that is expressed in the sacred vows of marriage.
And this love is not a mere sentiment. It is more than a feeling. It’s greater than an emotion. Think about it, no where in a marriage ceremony does the minister ever ask the question, “Are you in love with one another?” But always, “Will you love one another?” This love is a commitment, a dedication, a promise, a special covenant to always be there for one another, always, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, for better or worse, not just for an hour, not just for a day, not just for a year, but always.
This is how Bernice’s children will always remember their mother. They will forever be grateful that she was always there for them, for the way that she was always loving them.
When I asked Lavona and Jana to give me an example of how Bernice was always there for them, the first thing that came to their mind is how Bernice, with her own hands and a sewing kit, would make dresses and clothes for them to wear to school and to church.
I think it is a shame that this art of sewing clothes for children is slowly dying out with Bernice’s generation. Because this art, this wonderful act of love, is the very first way that our God demonstrated that for better or worse, God would always be there for God’s children.
Again, in the very first chapters of our Bible, we read that when Adam and Eve heard God walking through the garden at the time of the evening breeze, they hid themselves in the trees, for they realized that they were unclothed before God. All of their sins were exposed. They were ashamed of what they had done, embarrassed of who they had become.
But the good news is, good news that we oftentimes miss when we read this story, although Adam and Eve ate the fruit that was forbidden, although they decided to live in God’ s creation on their terms instead of on God’s terms, although they were naked, all of their sins laid bare, the Lord God, with God’s own hands makes garments of skin for the couple and clothed them.
And of course, like Bernice, God was clothing them with something more than garments. God was clothing them with love. God was covering them with grace. God was clothing them with the promise that although they would have to leave the garden of Eden as the consequence for their sins, God would never leave them. God was clothing them with the dedication that although the days may not be fair always, God would be there for them, always.
And this is the reason that we are able to celebrate today with so much hope, for better or worse, even in a chapel of an old cemetery. This is the reason that even a grieving family who has suddenly lost two sisters can be grateful.
The good news that that even when we have to leave this earth, God is still there for us. God will never leave us nor forsake us.
As the Apostle Paul boldly proclaimed, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
And because of this divine truth, this holy truth that Bernice taught us with her life, a chapel in the middle of an old cemetery in Enid, Oklahoma can suddenly begin to feel like a wedding chapel in Fullerton California, full of hope, love and promise.
For through remembering Bernice’s steadfast love and abiding presence, through celebrating the wonderful way that she fulfilled her human vocation my imaging her creator, we are reminded that God will be there always, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, and the good news is, that with God, not even death will depart us.