Eulogy delivered for Barbara J Newton Friday, December 16, 2016
The first chapter of our Bible teaches us that in the beginning “God created humankind in God’s image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).
Canadian Theology professor Douglas John Hall wrote that the “image of God” is not necessarily something we human beings have or possess, but more of something that we are created and called to do and to be. Imago Dei is not a noun. Imago Dei is a verb.
During our relatively short time on this earth, we are called to do what we can where we can to image God, to reflect God, to mirror God. That’s why we pray, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
And perhaps this is part of the reason that as a pastor and a preacher I have come to the conclusion that the only aspects of a person’s life that should be included in a person’s eulogy are those aspects of a person’s life that mirrors who or God is and how our God acts in the world.
Because of this, and unfortunately, because of the way some people live their lives on this earth, sometimes writing words of eulogy can be one of the most difficult tasks of a minister.
However, I have discovered that for most mothers, especially mothers like Barbara Newton, writing a Christian eulogy comes fairly easy.
For throughout the scriptures, God is oftentimes described as a mother.
In Deuteronomy 32:18 we read:
You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.
Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, God is portrayed as the mother of Israel. It is God who gave birth to the nation and loves Israel as a mother loves her child.
In the New Testament, it is obvious that Jesus understands this maternal love as he uses birth imagery to explain the gift of salvation, the gift of new life, abundant and eternal. Jesus told Nicodemus that if he wanted to truly experience life, he must be born anew, born from above.
And throughout the Church, baptismal waters have always been symbolic of the waters of the birthing process. The God that is portrayed throughout scripture is continually in labor. Always creating, recreating, working all things together for the good. Always giving life, abundant and eternal.
Fig, Kelly, and Chad, there is no doubt that part of the reason Barbara was such a wonderful human being was the way Barbara uniquely mirrored the motherly love of our heavenly parent. Her love was divine.
Now, I know what some of her immediate family are thinking: “Preacher, I don’t know about that. Mama loved us, but sometimes mama perhaps loved us to a fault.”
“Mama loved us so much, that if we were ever wronged or hurt by another, Mama was not the type to just let that go. The perfect title of her Eulogy might be: ‘Don’t…Mess with Barbara.’
So preacher, I am not so sure that I would describe her love as ‘divine love.’”
However, this is precisely how the holy scriptures describe it.
The prophets Hosea and Isaiah proclaimed a God, when it came to loving God’s children, you better not…mess with.
Hosea 13:8 reads:
I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs…
In other words, thus saith the Lord, if anyone harms my children, if anything is done that causes pain and heartache to the ones that I love the most, you better believe that I am not letting that go!”
Isaiah 42:14 reads:
For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant.
Sound like anyone you know? And here is the good news for all of us who are grieving today.
Today, we are hurting. Today we are in pain. For death has wronged us. Barbara was too young and too good to suffer as I have seen her suffer since I have been her pastor.
And the good news is that our maternal God loves us so that God is not going let that go.
One day, Jesus and his followers encounter a funeral procession while traveling through the town of Nain.
He watches as a casket and a grieving family go by.
But because Jesus is God incarnate, the very image of our God, because Jesus loves with a divine, motherly love, Jesus can’t let it go.
The scriptures tell us that when he encounters this scene, he was moved with compassion. More specifically, he was moved very deeply. The Greek word used here is a visceral verb. It means that Jesus was moved from deep within his inner bowels. Jesus has a visceral, gut wrenching reaction to that funeral procession. Jesus had this reaction, because Jesus loved. Some would say that he “loved to a fault.”
And Jesus’ deep compassion was for something more than the deceased. Jesus’ compassion was also for the living. Jesus recognized the tragedy of death. Jesus recognized the pain and heart ache that this death had caused. Jesus recognized that it was not the will of God for any of God’s children to suffer like this. And because of his great love, Jesus is not going to let it go.
With great love and compassion, Jesus reaches out his hand and touches the casket and speaks to the one within it, “I say to you, get up!” And then, listen to these wonderful words, “When the dead arose, Jesus ‘gave him back to his family.’” Isn’t that beautiful? This young one’s life was restored, but so were the lives of the family.
Thus, Jesus demonstrates what our God is all about. God is and has always been about life. God is and has always been about bringing life, new life, abundant life, eternal life to God’s people. In fact, giving life is the first, most important work that God does. For in the beginning, in the Genesis chapter one, we read that God breathed life into humanity.
Therefore, we have the certain hope that when Barbara breathed her last breath on this earth, God did not that go, but was there to breathe new, eternal life into her. And it is this hope that should also breathe new life and breathe peace into the lives of those of us who are grieving this day.
And we can rest assured that the divine motherly love of our God is not going to let our pain go today.
In Isaiah 66:12-13 we read:
For thus says the Lord; I will extend prosperity to her like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse and be carried on her arm, an dandled on her knees. As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.
The Psalmist declares:
Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
And in Luke chapter 13, we read these beautiful words of Jesus:
Jerusalem, Jerusalem… How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…!
In Revelation 21 we read:
See, the home of God is among mortals, He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.
Paul Smith, a pastor from Kansas City says, that here in the last book of the Bible, in John’s picture of eternal life, “We see God’s maternal presence doing something that almost every society understands as a mother’s delight.” Someone once told me that there is nothing in the world that can wipe away tears better than a mother’s blouse, when she holds you tightly in her arms.
What a wonderful and hopeful joy to know that Barbara breathed her last breath on this earth…only to breathe her next breath in the arms of God, wiping away any tears that she may have shed. And God is also here to hold us, wiping away our tears.
God is not going to just let our tears go!
This is the hope for all of us who grieve this day. We look forward to the day when we, like Barbara, will be held in God’s arms, but until that day comes, we can find comfort in God’s church that has been commissioned with the mission of sharing the motherly love of God with all people. The good news is that God has graced each of us with friends and family, who like Barbara emulate our motherly God to care for us, especially when we are hurting.
And God, Emmanuel, God-with-us, is also here. God’s not letting our pain go. God is right here to wipe away every tear from our eyes. Until death is no more. Until mourning, crying and pain are no more.