Mother Katherine’s sermon preached at the Burial Rite for Debbie MacNary on Nov. 18, 2023

Posted by on Sat, Nov 18, 2023 in Burial Rite, Sermons

Burial Rite: Deborah Jean Dolan MacNary

Nov. 18, 2023

In this celebration of Deb’s life and the life in Christ she now enters, our hardest task is to face her earthly death. Tears are right, so let them flow, because whatever of her we carry with us, whatever happens in the days, months and years to come, this has happened. Something cherished and irreplaceable came to an end, and something in us has come to an end with it. So we also remember that although death ended Deb in the familiar way, it can never end our relationship with her. Ellen, Katie, Tim, she is in your flesh and bones, your faces, mannerisms, your hearts and souls. Her love for you does not end, nor yours for her.

The night she died I asked you and your dad how she is most vivid in your lives. You immediately said, “Her fierce love, and her loyalty to her family and to friends.” Her incredible competitive spirit and her practicality, her curiosity, love of the outdoors, of reading, art, music, history, —and fun. There were no favorites among you, she was a selflessly supportive and loving mom who would do anything for you. With knowing smiles you said that support included “taking no BS from you, or at you!” While it’s easier to be good to each other in good times, Tim, you knew her as a great wife in sickness too. More than once I heard you and Deb refer to each other as their rock, usually leaning into each other as you spoke. She got things done, was fortified with courage and purpose, and we saw it as she got her master’s degree in record time and began loving to teach. While some may find immediate pleasure with the ‘easy’ students, (and she did love them) it was the difficult or most disadvantaged children she lost her heart to. She could get them to do what they needed to do, help them get “unstuck”. She did that for adults too, myself included. Deb remains the only person in my twenty years as a priest who was ever so excited to volunteer to lead the annual stewardship campaign; “Sure! That would be fun!” she said. By heavens, she did make it fun, instigating great evenings of “Beer, Brats and Budgets.”

To experience the death of a person of such loving dynamism is grievous, beyond words, yet your dark night of grief is the eve of the dawning of a new day, and in it we are not alone. Tim, Katie, Ellen, Tim, you are being carried on the wings of her prayers, of a love which has gone before you and who loves you still. As the disciples tried to face Jesus’ impending death he said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” He promised he went to prepare a place for them so that “where I am, there you may be also.” She loved and mothered you, cared for and befriended so many, and spent whatever she had for you, and now she is in God’s arms, being, as the poet said, “bound gladly to a new childhood.” In eternal life with Christ she is “in the wide, infinite mercy of being mothered [her]self.” You will always carry her ways of being, her fiercely loyal love, her bold determination and unbounded courage, because they are her gifts to you, and you will hear her words coming from your own mouths, for those who need them as much as you did. 

I was awed by her faith and her ability to talk so directly about it. With Deb, God had better be able to withstand serious questioning and (as we all have), her list of grievances —and in the same breath her certainty God is real, present, even when the ‘how’ and ‘why’ made no sense. For one who dares to have even a sliver of this audacious  faith, death is only a door, not the edge of the nothingness, it is a threshold into a new beginning. Our Prayerbook borrows words from our gospel today and says it beautifully. “For to your faithful people  Lord, life is changed, not ended; and when our mortal body lies in death, there is prepared for us a dwelling place eternal in the heavens.”

Not just for ourselves or the remarkable woman who has died, this is true for all those whom we love and no longer see. We believe all of these countless ‘saints’ who have lived in faith, or tried to, and those yet to come, are with us today in this shared sacrament. Our psalm said it perfectly; “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”

Our beautiful reading from Ecclesiastes tells of God-created time for everything. An idea hard to fathom given how quickly we seem to run out of it. The truth is, God does create a time and a season for everything, and in God’s time it is enough. So which of those lines spoke to you today? A time to be born and a time to die, a time to throw away and a time to gather, a time to keep silence and a time to speak, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time for war and a time for peace—?

All such things are needed and right, and God has created the time they take, just as we are made to be who we are, to embrace our goodness and be able for what we are called to do. Our problem is that we wanted more time with this woman, this child of God who is mother, daughter, sister, wife, teacher, student, competitor, dear friend, and so very much more. In such loss we are sharply reminded that time is not in our control, it is a holy gift. We choose how well we use it and if we truly cherish it. Debbie’s life with us was far shorter than anyone wanted, and yet somehow she made it time enough to do what God set about for her to do—and her love for those she was blessed with is great enough for our whole lifetime. To her last day she showed her love for you, and I heard her laugh with you.

When it is all too much, perhaps close your eyes and smile as Deb does in the picture in your bulletins, feeling sun on her face. Hear the psalmist’s words, as if to say, because “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” It is enough. It is eternal.


© 2023 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.

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