A Funeral Sermon on Beauty

Mary loved to spend time gardening, I’m told.  Reflecting on what I’ve learned of her life from her family and friends, I’m struck by her commitment to the beautiful things of this world.  Can you think of anything more beautiful than flowers and trees in bloom?  As a pediatric nurse, a mother, and a grandmother, she loved children—can you think of anything that brings more joy and beauty than a baby?  She served as a docent at the Art Museum and helped with the Children’s Bazaar—what is more beautiful than the excellent art of old masters and the works of young creative minds?

In the lives of the people Mary touched, we continue to see hints of her.  She has grandchildren who may remind you of her own character; her friends and loved ones are changed for having been near her.  These characteristics we see in each other that remind us of Mary are a reflection of her beautiful spirit, a sort of family resemblance that permeates those whom Mary loved.

This sort of family resemblance, which means more to us than having similar noses or sharing the same, very-tall physique, might be thought of as a little glimpse that we can see of Mary even after she is gone.  It is far from being the same thing as having her in the room with us again, but it is a taste, or a hint, or a reminder of what we used to experience with her.  The ways that her beautiful spirit rubbed off on others is a testament to her love.  And isn’t love the most beautiful thing of all?

We mourn today that we do not share company with her the way we used to, but just as we remember our time with her,  the scraps of beauty shared with Mary aren’t just tokens of a time gone by; the beauty she shared with us is a promise of much greater beauty to come.  Her garden creations only scratch the surface of the beauty that awaited her and that still awaits us.  The joy she knew and shared with children is a hint of the joy that was in store for her, and is still in store for us.  In the story of Mary’s life—her love of sharing good and beautiful things, and her mission to make others’ lives beautiful—we see reflections and hints of another beautiful story, which is the account of the whole world.

God entered into the world story in the form of a little baby named Jesus, who brought both bewilderment and joy to his parents and family.  As a child he delighted others with his curiosity, as the story of Jesus in the temple tells us.  Then, he grew up into a person who loved spending time in nature, especially in gardens;  and he often went off alone to gardens to pray, because it was there that God had first met humanity.  Further, Jesus loved to spend time with people around the dinner table, enjoying the good things in life done well.  He threw parties himself and he was a great guest at events, keeping the festivities rolling by making more wine in one case, and healing people that they might stand and dance in another.  Perhaps more than parties, this God-man loved to heal people, whether that meant curing their physical pain, or sitting with them while they cried through their loss, as a nurse might.  This beauty-loving God has made our lives beautiful and his time on earth showed us that the greatest beautiful things are yet to come.

In closing, I want to return to the image of a baby—the Gospel lesson we just heard tells us that the Father and the Son both have life in them, and that they offer that eternal life to us.  How is it that nature has set up for a baby to be created, but by the love shared between two people?  Love creates life.  Lovingly tending a garden allows the plants to flourish; holding a newborn close to your chest allows the little one to feel your body heat, and to thrive; gently studying a subject with love enables an artist to capture the essence of the scene she’s experiencing.  We know from our loving relationships, our families, our friends, that love is more than just an evolutionary advantage we all share; it both enables and demands that we do irrational and extraordinary things.  God did something irrational and extraordinary in coming to live among us as Jesus Christ.  God in Christ is the root of love that allows us each to grow into strong plants and trees of the true, the good, and the beautiful.


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