glory of god

glory of god

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Celebrating Easter in February

Today the parish in Wakefield said goodbye to one of its beloved saints, our dear Cindy Cook. May she rest in peace and rise in glory.

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

There’s two things I’d like to say as I begin this morning. First, I don’t really feel qualified to preach at Cindy’s funeral. She was so special and she meant so much to you, and to me. Second, I want to say that I really would prefer not to have to be here today. Because if it were up to me, Cindy would still be here with us, sending her thoughtful pastoral emails, making phone calls, organizing the church’s schedules, preparing Wallie’s lunch, visiting her children and grandchildren, talking to her sisters on phone, loving us all very much, and being loved very much in return. That’s what I would like. And I suspect that’s what you would like, too.

Unfortunately for us, it didn’t work out that way. Unfortunately, cancer decided that it should have the upper hand, as it has with so many, many other people. And, I suppose, cancer probably thought that it did have the upper hand in this story, as Cindy grew less and less strong. But if it thought that, it was wrong. We know, as Cindy knew, that cancer wouldn’t win out in the end. In fact, it couldn’t win out. Because we know, and Cindy knew, that ultimately it is God who will win out. Each and every time. Even after being diagnosed more than two years ago, Cindy wouldn’t let cancer stop her. She refused to give into it; she refused to give up doing what she loved and what meant the most to her. Even after telling me just about a month ago that she thought she should step down from her various positions at church, she still actually did them! She served as a minister at communion, she made pastoral phone calls, and she even put together the February service schedule. She wouldn’t let go until she absolutely had to, and that was just about 2 weeks ago.

And so I believe, and I hope you do, too, that on early Friday morning, when Cindy left us, it was not because she was giving in to cancer, or because cancer finally had the upper hand, but because she was being lifted from it, because she was being freed from its power once and for all, by the God who has loved her and cherished her and supported her from the very start of her life, the God who was, and is, so very, very proud of all that she did in her 70 years—raising a family, supporting a church, bringing new life and new hope at every opportunity.

I wasn’t fortunate enough to have known Cindy as long as most of you. But I certainly wish I had. So, I wasn’t there on that special evening 50 some years ago, when a pretty young Cindy Downs and her girlfriends decided to go dancing at the Lake Quannapowitt boathouse. And who did she happen to meet there, but a dashing young man named Wallie, who asked her to dance. Now, the way he told the story at their 50th wedding anniversary party, Cindy dropped her handkerchief in a not so subtle attempt to grab his attention as he passed by. I’ve heard conflicting reports about whether that’s a true story or not, but it sure is sweet.

What’s even funnier, though, is how that first encounter was cut short, when a very proper Miss Downs refused to take Wallie up on his offer for an ice cream soda at the Howard Johnson’s. She arrived with her girlfriends and she was loyal enough to leave with them, too. Of course they did eventually have that first date. And it turns out that Wallie’s and Cindy’s fathers were rival milkmen in Stoneham and Reading. So when Cindy told her dad that she met a dashing young man whose dad was also a milkman, Cindy’s father said, “You don’t mean Cookie’s kid, do you?” Well, thankfully, Cookie’s kid and the pretty Miss Downs found a way to get beyond their fathers’ rivalry to share a long and happy life together. By the way, she never went back to another dance at the boathouse. She didn’t need to. She found the man she’d dance through life with, and what a dance it’s been: three children, John, Jamie, and Debbie, five wonderful grandchildren—Logan, Erin, Cameron, Audra, and Genevive, friends too numerous to number, camping trips, grandkid’s sporting events, lobster rolls on the beach, trips to Arizona, coffee and doughnuts, church, love and love and more love.

Anyone who knew Cindy was aware that she put her faith and her love of God at the very center of her life—alongside her family. Cindy, perhaps more than anyone I have known, lived for others. She lived to serve. Not out of a sense of duty, not because she felt like she had to in a grudging way, but because she wanted to, because God sang out in her heart and soul, and she wanted to sing and share that song, with everyone she possibly could.

Cindy came into my life just two and a half years ago, when I accepted the call to be Emmanuel’s rector. I had met Wallie during the interview process, as he was on the search committee. And I clearly remember that at my interview with the search committee, several members were talking about Wallie’s wife, who did so much in the parish. What a dedicated woman, I thought. I hope, if I get this job, that I can live up to her standards. Well, as intimidated as I was, since then, Cindy has been my constant partner in ministry here, planning worship, administering communion, visiting the sick and aged, directing me where to go and who to see. And I know that’s true not only of me, but also of my predecessors, several of whom are here today. In fact, I recently learned that Cindy was the very first woman to be invited to serve at Emmanuel’s altar, way back in the tenure of Emmanuel’s legendary rector, John Thorp.

And ever since then, she has been at the center of this parish’s life, sharing the love and life of Christ with us through the sacraments, through her kind words, and perhaps most notably, through her presence at people’s bedsides. So, it really is hard to imagine Emmanuel without her. And thankfully, we don’t have to. Because although Cindy isn’t physically with us any longer, her love is certainly still here, her faith is still here, her example to service is still here. She is part of the Emmanuel story, the story of “God with us.” That’s what the word Emmanuel means, “God with us.” And Cindy exemplified that in a very special way, as she brought God to us here in church, in hospital rooms, and in our homes. And now, today, she is one of our very own saints, shining God’s light on us from above.

This past Sunday I mentioned in my sermon that when I was riding home on the subway after having given Cindy the Last Rites on Thursday I was reminded of a time, probably about two years ago, when I was coming home on the Red Line from the Mass General Hospital, having brought Cindy communion when she was quite ill following a bad reaction to her chemo treatment, and a young man sat down next to me and when he noticed that I was wearing a clergy collar and holding a communion kit on my lap, and he said to me, “Christianity is a foolish religion. It takes too much from people and doesn’t give anything back.” Well, I didn’t argue with him. I just said that I disagreed. For a moment, I suppose, I wondered about what he had to say. But then, I thought of Cindy, whom I had been visiting. And I thought, well Cindy doesn’t think it’s foolish, and in her case, our Christian faith does give back, again and again.

What we know, of course, is that as much as Cindy gave, she also received. Because that’s how giving works. Cindy knew that when we give freely and fully, we get back even more. Not necessarily in the sense of things, but in joy, in satisfaction, and in love. This past week I learned that Cindy was especially exuberant at Christmas time. John, Jamie, and Debbie once told her that she needed to cool it on the Christmas gifts for the grandkids, since she often gave more presents than Santa. So, being a little sneaky, she decided that she would only give one present to each child. Of course, each present was actually an extra large gift bag full of several individually wrapped treasures. She just couldn’t help herself. Because, you see, giving brought her so much joy—whether to her family, to friends, or to her community here at Emmanuel. And here’s the really great thing: we can all learn from her example of giving freely, fully, exuberantly even, and in the process we can find the same kind of joy and hope and strength that sustained Cindy so well, for so long.

And now, inspired by her life, with our hearts full of love, and gratitude, and joy, it’s time to say goodbye. Not forever, since surely she is waiting for us in one of those mansions that Jesus spoke about in today’s gospel, making sure heaven is in good order, no doubt scheduling things. But for now, for a while. And so we entrust her to God’s loving care and embrace. Confident that she is safe. Confident that she is secure. Confident that she is home. For Cindy, the promises of the God she loved so dearly and served so freely and so fully have been fulfilled. Her illness has been defeated once and for all, and she is free.

None of us knows for sure what happens to us when our lives are completed. But I believe that on Friday morning, when God reached down to earth and brought Cindy to himself, he did so with the greatest gratitude for all that she did to build his kingdom here on earth. I believe he held her, and thanked her, and said to her, “Well done, my daughter, well done.”

Of course we will miss her. Of course we wish she were still with us. We wish we could talk to her on the phone, or hold her hand, or sit next to her at church. But we also know that Cindy is now where she was always meant to be, from her earliest days as a young girl when she walked to church by herself, looking to find meaning, hope, and peace in her life. And today, she has. She has found a meaning, a peace and a hope that we can only imagine.

Today, as we celebrate Cindy’s life and remember all that she has meant to us and to so many in her 70 years, God’s promises of love and new life are held out before us like the empty tomb on a bright Easter morning. God promises, even as it snows and is bitterly cold, that spring is coming, and with it, new abundant life. God promises us, again and again, that in him all things are being made new. God promises us that he will bind up the broken hearted and wipe every tear from our eyes. It’s a promise that for Cindy has been fulfilled. You know, when I look out at this full church, I thought to myself, it feels like Easter. Well for Cindy, today, tomorrow, from now on, for ever and always, it is a bright beautiful Easter morning. And to that, what can we say, but Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.

Let us pray,

O Thou Lord of all worlds, we bless thy name for all those who have entered into their rest, and reached the promised land where thou art seen face to face. Give us grace to follow in their footsteps, as they followed in the footsteps of thy holy Son. Keep alive in us the memory of those dear to ourselves whom thou hast called to thyself, and grant that every remembrance which turns our hearts from things seen to things unseen may lead us always upwards to thee, till we too come to the eternal rest which thou hast prepared for thy people; all this we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

© The Rev. Matthew P. Cadwell