A couple of days ago, my brother-in-law’s mother died. She had been dealing with a myriad of health issues over the past dozen years, but her death was still very much unexpected. There is never a “good time” to lose a loved one, but somehow, losing a loved one during this particular season always magnifies the loss. I first met Dot over twenty-five years ago, during a time in my life when I was struggling with all sorts of things — relationship issues, employment uncertainty, a battle with depression to name a few. I received firsthand the healing benefit of Dot’s down-home hospitality. I won’t be able to attend her funeral tomorrow, December 23rd, because my work in Wisconsin requires my presence here.
So, when my brother-in-law asked me to provide a few resources to assist in the family in planning the funeral, I did what any preacher would do. I wrote a sermon. I offer it here for a couple of reasons: 1) as a tribute to Dot and 2) for all of those who have lost loved ones in the past year and are facing this Christmas without a family member for the first time.
We often hear that Christmas is a season of hope. Christians say our hope is not futile — because such hope is made possible through the Resurrection.
God bless you, Dot! May you rest in peace and rise in glory.
She was a fixture in that front door. Anytime someone pulled into the driveway in front of her house — before they could even get out of the car — she was standing at the door. OK, let’s be honest, Dorothy liked to know what was going on, and she was always interested in seeing who was going up and down “her” road. But any time someone got out of the car and started toward the fence, the visitor could be fairly confident that Dorothy would offer them a greeting and an invitation. “Hey there!” she’d say…and then in the second breath, “Come on in the house.”
Once inside, there was usually a pitcher of “liquid hospitality” in the form of iced tea (sweetened heavily, of course!), and Dot was usually insistent enough that you would likely have a glass (or two!). If you stayed longer than 15 or 20 minutes, there was a good chance Dot was going to do her best to feed you. And she usually accomplished this task too! Before her health declined, Dot could whip up a stove full of food — the sort of food that would make the cooks at Cracker Barrel jealous — “good, old Georgia food,” she called it.
Conversation at the front door. Conversation in the living room. Conversation in the kitchen. Conversation between sips of iced tea. Conversation over black-eyed peas, rice, cubed steak and gravy. The open hospitality of eating together. The give and take of conversation.
Dot would listen to your stories and she would give you some of hers. Sometimes a simple chat about the weather would lead you to telling Dot things you hadn’t intended to tell her. Sometimes you’d be chatting along and she would offer you her opinion — directly and with little fanfare. You didn’t have to agree with Dot’s point of view, but that reality never stopped her from giving it to you — the facts as she saw them. She was tenacious that way.
The English word “conversation” comes from a Latin word which means “to change”. To have an exchange of words, a sharing of ideas, a meeting of human hearts — these are the sorts of things that change us. Dot might have never known it, but she changed (quite often for the better), every person who was the beneficiary of her hospitality.
It’s no accident that when the biblical writers imagined “life with God” in the fulness of the time we call “eternity”, their imagery often pointed towards a place and time where people could talk — to one another and to God — uninterrupted, unimpeded and without fear. When the prophet Isaiah calls to mind the great Day of the Lord, he imagines a feast (Isaiah 25:6-9). What better way to get to know folks than to eat with them? (I’m guessing Dot would offer a hearty “Amen!” to that!)
When John sees his vision of the Heavenly City in Revelation, he imagines a place free of the pain and sorrows that surround us here — not unlike the pain and suffering Dot experienced during the last few years of her life. To be with God is to be in a place where there’s plenty to eat and drink. To be with God is to be in a place where there’s an absence of fear, separation and dread. To be with God is to be in the place where God Almighty holds the Kleenex to wipe away every tear from every eye. (Revelation 21:2-7)
When Jesus tells his disciples of his impending departure (John 14:1-6), he promises them that there is a place reserved for them in his “Father’s house”. The King James Version of the Bible says there are “many mansions”. Bottom line — each of us is promised a place where we are known — known more deeply than we can imagine this side of eternity. We are known and loved by the God who loved us enough to enter fully into the human condition — living this life and dying our death. This is the God who insistently invites us to share in the eternal hospitality promised to all people through Jesus, the Christ.
Dot will missed. Her family and friends will mourn her passing from this life. Her closest loved ones will grieve and cry in the days ahead as they learn to navigate their lives in her absence. Grief, sorrow, mourning and loss — these are the natural human emotions which are a part of the experience for those of us who remain after a loved one dies. But when we face the starkness of death, we do not do so as people with no hope. As Christians, we are comforted by the faith that tells us the end of this life is not the end of it all. We have faith in the One who said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” We hold fast to the assurance that there will come a time when we will see our loved ones again, in the light of an eternity with the One who never leaves us or forsakes us.
In God’s house there are many mansions — enough room for us all — and there just may be one with a screen door. And who knows? When we walk up the steps, toward that screen door, we might just hear, “Hey there! Come on in the house.”