I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart [the last phrase can also be translated: because I hold you in my heart]. Philippians 1:3-7a
In his wonderful, lovely and delightful poem “The Lanyard” former U. S. poet laureate Billy Collins writes of himself as a boy making a lanyard for his mother at summer camp. He compares his gifts with what his mother has given. Here is one comparison from the poem.
Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
Then Collins ends the poem powerfully, speaking as his adult self.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift – not the archaic truth
that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hands,
I was sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.
As I write these words I realize how inadequate they are for all you have given me in our eleven years together – your time, your attention, your energy, your prayers, your gifts in service. You have given me your children to hold and bless and baptize. You have given me the lives of loved ones and offered me the last word in gratitude to God for them. You have listened as I proclaimed and puzzled. You have given me trust. You’ve surrounded me with a community of love and forgiveness. You have been a gift of God’s grace to me and I have grown tremendously from such gifts.
I hope I have given you some things – new ways to think about faith in Jesus Christ and some inspiration for living out that faith with joy and courage. I hope I have helped you think more creatively, dream more imaginatively and daringly, pray more honestly and deeply. I hope I have helped you cultivate a Christian faith that is thoughtful, passionate and compassionate. I hope I have painted a compelling picture of a life of discipleship as a life of joy, genuineness, gentleness, generosity and concern for justice. I hope in some ways I have been a gift of God’s grace to you.
Yet as I reflect this time is not simply about what you have given me, though it is significant, or what I have given you, but about how God’s grace has been made more evident and real in what we have done together. Together we have formed a community committed to cultivating a thoughtful, passionate and compassionate faith in Jesus Christ. Together we have sought to live into joy, genuineness, gentleness, generosity and justice. Together as a community we have welcomed babies, families in all configurations, people in all their blessed diversity, and said good-bye to good and cherished friends. We have laughed together, sang together, prayed together, wept together, and together we have sought to be a community of love and forgiveness for each other and for the world.
So I will continue to thank God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now, and going forward. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because I hold you in my heart and you hold me in your heart.
In nearly every funeral I conduct, I share these words from May Sarton, “the people we love are built into us.” We don’t have to wait for someone to die to remember that. You are a part of my life and always will be. You are built into who I am. From the bottom of my heart and the depth of my soul, thank you.
Grace and Peace,
This appeared in First Family, the newsletter of First United Methodist Church Duluth