Jane Catherine Peddicord
Martha and Mary were sisters. Their brother Lazarus had been sick. They had called for their dear friend Jesus, knowing that He was of God. The text is clear, it says “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” He delays going, and when he does his disciples try to talk him out of going because the region around Bethany was too dangerous with people trying to stone him and others already conspiring to have him arrested. As further sign of his deep love, Jesus replies, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.”
Meanwhile, Martha and Mary are at home sitting shiva, the Jewish custom of mourning. Friends and neighbors surround them, much as we come to be with Craig and one another as we seek comfort and consolation at having lost “our friend,” Jane. Word comes to the sisters that Jesus has approached the outskirts of Bethany. Always the practical one, always the one seeing to it that others needs are met, always the housekeeper, Martha goes to meet Jesus before he gets to the house. She has some business with him that is better kept at a distance from the house and those who are comforting the family – she seems to want to spare them hearing what she has to say.
And what she has to say is what we all want to say at a time like this: Lord, if you had been here, Lord if you had heard our prayers, Lord if you had done something, come sooner, our sister Jane would not have had to die! Martha is not a shy one. She may appear so tending to things in the kitchen or in the garden out back, but when the times demanded it she could stand up to anyone, including Jesus.
Jesus tells her that Lazarus will rise again. Martha, believing he is talking about some hypothetical future end of days when all the dead shall rise again says in effect, “Sure, sure, we all know that, but I am talking about now.” Jesus responds, “I am now. I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Martha immediately knows he is right. Martha immediately sees Jesus as if for the first time – He is of God, He is resurrection, He is life. And speaking on behalf of all of us here this morning, and for all people who mourn at all times and in all places, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” When she had said this, the text continues, she went and told Mary who got up and left the house to go see Jesus, and everyone in the house followed. Jesus saw Mary and everyone with her weeping and was “deeply moved.” They go to the tomb, Jesus calls Lazarus out, and orders everyone, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
This is the hard part. This is the hard part for all of us: letting go. We are here because we love Jane and all that she was, is and continues to be – a loving wife, mother, friend, and especially a friend of Jesus. She grew up and married her beloved Bud (Elmer) at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Carey Street, Baltimore., where she could remember Fr. Schwinn running down the street after thieves trying to make off with the gold candlesticks and other altar ware! Once they settled here at St. Peter’s she was for a time in the late 1960’s the Parish Secretary under The Reverend Raymond Atlee. She was a faithful member of our chapter of the Daughters of the King, and I can remember her passing around the velvet bag into which members who had failed to wear their DOK cross to the meeting would place their penalty “dues.” She and Nelva Ackman were regulars at our Stations of the Cross Friday nights during Lent, and they would often travel around the diocese sampling oyster and ham dinners at various other parishes. No matter what issues may have been rocking the Episcopal Church in general, or St. Peter’s specifically, Jane was in church nearly every Sunday, even after her stroke in 2003. Sunday after Sunday we would stand at the side door on her way out where she would ask me about news around the diocese of Maryland – particularly about St. Luke’s, Mount Calvary and others of our inner city parishes. Jane loved her Lord, and she was loyal to the Episcopal Church in ways one seldom sees any more. Jane was very much a Martha – practical, strong, always asking about and caring for others, often without comment on her own needs, and now, like Martha, she goes before us to be reunited with her Lord and Savior.
For like Martha in our story from John’s gospel, Jane knows – we come from Love, we return to Love and Love is all around. As promised, Jesus has returned to bring her home to the household of Love – eternal life with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. How fitting that the church is decorated for Easter in white and told– The Feast of the Resurrection. The Paschal Candle, first lit on Easter Eve in the darkness shines brightly - the light that shines in the Darkness, the light of Christ. The Light that John says the Darkness has not and cannot overcome. It stands near the Baptismal Font, marking that place where we enter into the fellowship of Christ’s Body, the Church, our entry point into eternal life.
Note how that other John, John of the Revelation, describes the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, what we rather casually refer to as heaven, not as a place to which we go, but rather it comes down to meet us, to gather us, to take us up into the eternal dwelling place at the throne of God! It is God in Christ who comes for His people, gathers them up, wipes away every tear from their eyes and announces that “death shall be no more…behold I make all things new!” Jane is fully a part of this newness. “Neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more for the former things have passed away.”
Jane knows this to be true. No longer must she be separated from her beloved Bud, no more must she manage pain, no more must she be a brave and courageous icon of faith in the Living God of Jesus. Yes, she was thirsty. She was thirsty for God. But now she is drinking freely from the Fountain of the Water of Life! She has been unbound. She is set free. She now joins with Martha and all those who throughout the ages proclaim, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
So we come to mourn. We come to comfort one another. We come to remember and celebrate and give thanks for a life faithfully lived and more faithfully set free. And we come to affirm our faith, Jane’s faith, the faith of the Church.
Henri Nouwen, priest, monk, teacher and author, observed on the death of his mother: In those confusing weeks after my mother’s death I said to myself, “This is a time of waiting for the Spirit of truth to come, and woe unto me, if by forgetting her, I prevent her from doing God’s work in me.” I sensed that something much more than a filial act of remembering was at stake, much more than an honoring of my dead mother, much more than holding on to her beautiful example. Very specifically, what was at stake was the life of the Spirit in me. To remember her does not mean telling her story over and over again to my friends, nor does it mean pictures on the wall or a stone at her grave; it does not even mean constantly thinking about her. No. It means making her an active participant of God’s ongoing work of redemption by allowing her to dispel in me a little more of my darkness and lead me a little closer to the light. In these weeks of mourning she died in me more and more every day, making it impossible for me to cling to her as my mother. Yet by letting her go I did not lose her. Rather, I found that she is closer to me than ever. In and through the Spirit of Christ, she indeed, is becoming a part of my very being. [In Memoriam, p. 60]
Jane already knew this. She stood in this church week after week and affirmed such a faith. Let us join with Jane and stand, turning to page 496 in the Red Book of Common Prayer, and In the assurance of eternal life given at Baptism, let us proclaim our faith:
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead and buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated on the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.