Apr. 24, 2019 – Burial Rite for Chris Pierce – Homily

Posted by on Wed, Apr 24, 2019 in Burial Rite, Sermons

A Celebration of the Life of
Christine Michele Pierce (1966-2019)

April 24, 2019

That good shepherd reading always sounds like a beautiful Sunday school lesson from our childhood. I recently saw an e-card for Easter using the good shepherd imagery. A pristine little lamb ambled through tidy meadows nibbling perfect flowers and grass. He wanders until a kindly and immaculate shepherd (with just a little spatter of mud on his boots) picks him up and carries him home on his shoulders. Ever been around sheep? They’re messy and muddy and loud! They go their own way, then suddenly turn and go the way of the flock, maybe. Sometimes they obey and sometimes not – mostly not. It’s a good image for Jesus because we are more like real life sheep than the e-card version, and God loves us all anyway! It’s a good image for us today because we get to consider Chris as a sheep of God’s flock and as a very good shepherd of a flock herself.

We are of how she knew and related to each of us uniquely, always ready and willing to deal with whatever mess she walked into here at church, and I’ll bet that’s true for her being in your life too, whether she was your mother, daughter, sister, friend, or extended family. The mess of life didn’t stop her from caring, the failings and difficulties we all come with didn’t slow her down when it came to helping sort things out, listening, making the challenging stuff of life come out right. One of you said it so well, “I didn’t know her well, but I knew her spirit by all her acts of kindness.”

That’s one of the gifts I’ll miss most – that she could love people through whatever pathway she had with them. She did it through her professional administrative and financial work for us —and through giving my dog Sadie treats, or by bringing flowers for one of us on a birthday, in the way she looked as she answered calls from the absolute center of her life, her daughter Ashlee. Her whole self was in focus on those calls; mother-and-shepherd all at once, and I saw the same quietly focused love when Steve or Bud called, or when she was worried about any one of you. She cared for all of us here at St. Michael’s, and always tried to remember something about each person so she could get their identities in her head. Shepherd to this flock and to her own family. Even the preschool staff and bank staff she worked with all knew her and now grieve this loss. Her solid attentive presence and way of inspiring calm rippled out from her desk to more people than most of us will ever know.

I’ll admit, she made a lousy sheep though. She wasn’t great at following like sheep are expected to do, she was even worse at letting other people ‘tend’ to her. But once she let you in, there was a strong bond like having a shepherding sister in your life, who would be there if you needed her. She also had her own personal demons, struggles, like any of us, and did the best she could with them. Her death leaves a gaping hole in my own heart, and that of many of you. I’m sorry to say it will not soon be filled, nor will we cease aching for her loss.

Chris’ death has thrust her daughter Ashlee into life as an adult with jarring immediacy, and while she’s making her way through all of the decisions and changes, finishing high school and looking at graduation and beyond, she is also experiencing the worst grief she could experience. Chris spoke of how being a single mother meant she feared leaving her daughter anchor-less or unprepared should something happen to her. Ashlee knew her loving care whether in that over-the-top hash brown cheese casserole or in her constantly working so hard on their behalf. She strove to be so many things for you Ashlee, to guide you, and also to try to know when to step back and let you make your own mistakes, chart your own course – which Chris had the pleasure of seeing Ashlee live into more and more lately. We now see you finding your footing and strength in tenacious ways that, as you said, (Ashlee) reveal you are stubborn, like your mother! —But in a good way, a way that is testimony to her own beautiful inherent strength.

Her parents Bud and Steve, and Marilyn, and her brother Tony, are grieving what is a horrendous and unnatural loss, the worst that can happen to a parent. Chris’ love for you was at once that of your little girl and the caring woman who didn’t want to cause you worry or burden you with too much. As parents, we do so anyway, even if we don’t get the details. She knew that and felt so loved, treasured even. So many of us fail to feel that or have a chance to receive it, and you gave her that gift with great generosity, and she knew it.

The reading from Ecclesiastes about there being “a time to every matter under heaven” reflects some of her pragmatism, and also how rich a personality Chris had—there was “a time” for each person she cared about, and she made that time uniquely her and yours. Pedis with Ashlee or holiday feasts with the whole extended family, each of us felt like we knew her, and were so glad we did. Her family laughed when I talked about her way with plants, having never seen her be a gardener. We on the other hand saw her keep plants miraculously alive here, rescuing them from my office knowing I would kill them within the week. She kept poinsettias all year long and even blooming again, and she sometimes brought armloads of flowers from her garden on her day off for the altar guild to use on the altar.

Like watching a sunset, we each saw her from a slightly different place with subtleties of color revealing themselves to each of us. In the weeks and months, years, ahead things will trigger our memories of her and I hope you recall her with you in those moments, and seek to be so present with those you care about too. Even in simple things like grocery coupons and quietly connecting with people along her way, knowing people’s stories, how one was soon retiring and another had dogs at home, because she listened and was present in the time God gave for you and her to be in the world together. I regret not being more fully present myself with her when I had those chances, and I wish it hadn’t taken her death for me to put that into words of thanksgiving. In her honor I’ll try to be more like her in those ways. Today is a day we celebrate her life and celebrate that her life, though different, is not all over. We are the ones God invites to carry it forward with us and honor her in those personal-to-each-of-us ways. How did you know and receive her gifts, and how will you let them speak now in your life?

In 2 Corinthians Paul writes, “for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God.” That’s the way Chris’ ministry and life operated no matter who I speak to or how you knew her. Taking care of needs; and doing so unobtrusively so that people were glad it happened or relieved things now taken care of. Filled with thanksgiving, as Paul says, yet in the way she did these things she rarely called attention to herself. She didn’t do things for the thanks, not at all, yet I’m still left with the lesson of being more demonstrably appreciative for the gifts of those in my life. We tend to think we’ve got endless time for those things, for heart to heart talks, for laughing together, for making clear how much we love each other, and then we’re suddenly proved wrong when a life comes to such an untimely end. For us, she is giving us the gift of learning that now. She was no raging extrovert, but she would meet you more than half way and with that gracious low key way of hers. None of us ever need wonder if it’s worth the extra thought to show our care, the time to think of someone other than ourselves when we’re busily passing by mundane tasks, or if we can ever listen too well.

What do you carry with you as part of Chris’ legacy? As Christians we are not just celebrating her life as we knew it in this church all in festive Eastertide white and gold with flowers and candles; this would be an Easter celebration no matter what time of year she died, because our faith says life doesn’t end when our bodies give out. Life doesn’t end at the funeral or at the grave. Dorothy Parker said, “Constant use had not worn ragged the fabric of their friendship” and we know neither does death. We are a resurrection people, and she continues life in a new way today, whole and healed, loving and beloved. You will hear it in our Communion prayers today; “To your faithful people O Lord, life is changed, not ended.” Her life goes on in new ways, and in us as we each knew her. So, I hope you will still talk to her, laugh with her, love her and carry her in your heart in some special way that’s all about who you and she were to each other, and how thankful to God we are for having her in our world.

© 2019 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.

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