We gather in moments like these to remember and rehearse what we most
deeply believe. In the face of death, we become soberly serious about life.
On casual days we make decisions based on our most deeply held beliefs,
and over time, we take the form of those beliefs and actions. Death seems to
be that clarifying moment when it becomes apparent whether our beliefs
were about convenience or conviction. The death of my Mother punctuates
When Christians talk about deeply held beliefs, it is possible that we are
talking about a list of doctrines. I prefer to think that we are talking about the
story we find ourselves living out. For us, that story is succinctly captured in
The Apostle’s Creed, one of the oldest statements of our faith.
I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth: and
in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived of the Holy
Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was
crucified, dead, and buried. He descended into the grave and the third
day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at
the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From there he will come to
judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy
catholic church, the communion of the saints, the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.
More than anything, this is the plot line of the story we find ourselves in. As I
preach the funeral of my Mother, I find that the creed helps me in specific
“He suffered under Pontius Pilate”. I find it amazing that a long dead
inconsequential ruler named Pontius Pilate is found in the centuries old creed
of Christians. But there is a reason. We believe that our Lord suffered and we
wish to recite that to each other when we say what we deeply believe.
I watched Alzheimer’s rob my Mother of memory, health, home, and social
connection. Death was brutal. She suffered… this woman whose life was
given in service to God and the church. And her last years were not the only
suffering. She lost a brother tragically as a young girl. Her parents divorced
in her early teen years. Her family was poor. As a young married woman she
cared for her father in her home and watched him bent by crippling arthritis
and then die in his early 50’s. She tells the story of trying to make bargains
with God. “Get my parents back together. Heal my father. And I will serve you.” Had her faith been founded on a God who zapped his people out of
suffering, she would never have known the God of the creed. Our God
suffered under Pontius Pilate.
We prayed often for a miracle of healing for Mom. An instant return of
recognition would have been a remarkable miracle. It never happened, at
least not here. But a miracle did occur. For 1000 days, my Dad made his way
to the bedside of the wife he vowed to love for better for worse, for richer or
poorer, in sickness and in health. He fed her. He patted her hand. He kissed
her. He read the Bible to her. He made a daily milk shake for her. He
responded to her jabber with loving interest. And when she wanted to go
home with him, it broke his heart – over and over again. He went home alone
and returned early the next morning to feed her breakfast.
The miracle was not in instant deliverance but in long-suffering love. Dad
was the incarnation of Jesus, daily present as one who bore the pain of
another in his own body. I saw our God in the suffering love of my own father
and have never been more proud or humbled by any human feat.
Our creed also says that Jesus was “crucified, dead, and buried; he
descended into the grave”. The footprints of Jesus are in the bottom of
every grave. The ground to which we abandon worn-out bodies has been
visited by our Lord. While it seems that in our death we are most alone, we
really aren’t. God in Christ has gone there ahead of us and is present with us
in our dying. The one who “sits at the right hand of God the Father
Almighty” has spent time in a grave. He has gone to every human pit
imaginable as one who suffers and dies in the place where we suffer and die.
Our hope is rooted in the reality that the Father will also return there in
resurrection power someday.
In the creed we confess our belief in “the holy catholic church and the
communion of saints”. God has a people. Mom loved this people, the
church. The room we gather in for her funeral was built during her years as
the church treasurer. The church checkbook was at our house and she sat at
our dinner table to write the checks for the beams, the roof, and the pews.
She played the piano for us to sing our praise to God. She joined 5 other
gifted vocalists in a women’s ensemble and brought music to our worship.
She led the missionary program that has now established work in over 160
nations of the world. She taught Sunday School and studied the word of God
as intently as any preacher. She pastored the people of her Sunday School class and visited them in their darkest moments. She was a quasi-counselor
for anyone with a problem and was often sought out for Godly advice.
She believed in “the holy catholic church”, the church of God all over the
world. And why not? It was these folk who found her when she was grieving
her brother’s death and angry over her parent’s divorce. They took her in
and loved her into the church. They incorporated her into the “communion
of the saints”. She came alive in such a communion. I think she believed
the table in our home was as sacred as the Table of the Lord in the
sanctuary…because she fed everybody at it. We hosted visiting missionaries,
preachers, church leaders, singers, and strays. To her, this was much more
than southern hospitality. It was the communion of the saints.
When I think of Ruth Boone at this moment, I wonder what she is doing.
Scripture gives us two possibilities. Some texts speak of her as asleep in the
Lord, waiting resurrection morning. Other texts envision the dead in Christ as
quite active – a great cloud of witnesses cheering us on, a prayer band
gathered around the throne lifting petitions for us, a mighty choir of praise.
Our branch of theology (the Anglicans who became Episcopalians who
became Methodists who became Nazarenes) suggests that every time we
gather at the Table of the Lord, there are more people present than we can
see. Just down the table, out of our sight, are the saints of the ages also
sitting at the table enjoying the communion of the saints. I like to believe
this…so I think I will.
Our creed ends by stating belief in “the resurrection of the body and
the life everlasting”. The same God who began with dust to make
everything that is us, will once again take into his hands the dust that is us
and breathe Holy Breath into us. Only this time, we will not be perishable.
Our body, her body, is not the throwaway of a worn-out life but is rather the
dust of a new creation waiting to happen. Ruth Boone is part of our past but
she is also the dust of our future. All that is needed is resurrection breath.
I am profoundly grateful for a Mother who found her way into the story of the
God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Her example has saved me from the
cheap alternatives and has instilled in me a faith that works through love.
Mom, the Lord has blessed you and kept you. He has made his face to shine
upon you and has been most gracious to you. Now he gives you everlasting
peace. Thank you. I love you.