My grandfather asked me to preach for my grandmother’s “Service of Witness to the Resurrection” (what we Presbyterians call a funeral), and I could not say no to him. I post the sermon here in her memory. She was a true light, a good reflection of the Light.
Text – Luke 24:13-35
The artist Georgia O’Keefe, who became famous for her paintings of flowers, explained her success by saying, “In a way, nobody sees a flower really, it is so small, we haven’t time – and to see takes time…”
From my grandmother I learned the holiness of time grasped to take in a dogwood in full bloom, read a good book, plant and tend a garden, wait for the wine to reach perfection, can a winter’s worth of vegetables, and love – really love, in action, and not only in words – her family. But mostly I learned the holiness of time at table; I grasped something of God’s Kingdom at my grandmother’s table.
The Table of the Lord is the place where we are invited to rest from our journey and receive the food God offers to sustain us along the way. Whether we’ve been to the sun or the depths of the sea, whether we are in heaven or in Sheol, God meets us right where we are and sets a table for us.
At my grandparent’s house, life centers around the large round table in the kitchen area. I never remember a meal, any meal, in their home that was eaten in front of the television or in a room by myself. It was understood that meals were taken together around the table. In the summertime, when my brother and I visited, everyone in the house got up at 5:30 in the morning to eat breakfast. Woe to you if Marie Cosby had to come and get you up. If she got upset, she was known to speed through all the names of her children and grandchildren until she landed on the one she wanted. “Sharon, Philip, David, Michael, Cathy, Dana!”I would silently pray, “Please don’t stop on my name…” I always tried to be up for breakfast.
We got up that early because my grandfather went to work at Reynolds at that time, and he had to eat breakfast, and the understanding was that if there was a meal, everyone ate it at the same time. So we would get up to eat, and then go back to bed. Grandma saw Papa off with great tenderness and affection, and she always met him at the steps when he returned.
Around that table I learned a great deal about life, politics, love, science, cars, architecture, history, and most importantly, family. It was a centering place, a healing place; it was home. To this day, when we gather at that place, we take our meals at the round table. My grandfather, who is eighty-two now, and still a yellow dog Democrat, and still working with iron in the shop he built, and still one of the smartest people I know, sits at that table and engages us all in lessons about life, politics, love, science, history, and family. After my grandmother suffered a stroke several years ago, she was confined to a wheelchair and could communicate very little. This was hard for me to see, because this was a woman who, well into what many would call older age, water-skiied, belly-danced, and looked great in a two-piece bathing suit. Now her days were spent on the couch.
Except at meal times. When it is time to eat, my grandfather lifts her up off the couch and into her wheelchair, brings her into the kitchen, and sits her at the round table. Even though she has to be assisted, and even though she cannot say much, her eyes and her occasional attempt at a smile tell it all. She is still at table. Now she is able to receive the nurture that she so generously gave. The love of family sustains her, even in the dark night.
It is no surprise to me, nurtured as I was at that wonderful earthly table so many times, to know that when Jesus truly wanted to draw near to those he loved: to speak to them words of life, difficult words of challenge, lessons of love, he did it at table. It was at table where Jesus, on the night he was betrayed by one of his friends, took bread and broke it and gave it to them, and to us, and said, “take, eat, this is my body, broken for you…” and then he poured the cup and said, “Take, drink, this cup is my blood, shed for you.” It was there, at table, that the disciples saw through the torn and fragrant edges of the bread, and felt in the rich and flavorful fragrance of wine, the love of God, the life of God, the grace of God.
I suppose most people know that my grandmother loved to make wine. She saw it as carrying on the legacy of her father, who apparently underwent a great deal of grief for his little hobby, grief she was glad to shoulder for the honor of carrying on what she called his “art.” The wine she made, which I think it is safe for me to say now she ever so often allowed me one sip, was often good, sometimes was like grape flavored moonshine, but never failed to bring her great joy, and us as well. I learned much for my wine-making grandmother – how to be your own person, how to extend generous hospitality, how to enjoy life.
Jesus is walking with his disciples on the road, but they have no idea it is him. They are filled with grief and longing; they’ve witnessed Jesus crucified, and now they speak of hope in the past tense. We had hoped, they say. Meanwhile, this stranger on the road insists on speaking with them about religion, God, a little politics, the scriptures, and their hearts are burning within them, but they can’t quite put their finger on it. They beg him to stay, for some reason they cannot let him go. And then, when he breaks the bread, their eyes are opened, and they recognize the presence of Christ, the risen Christ, in the breaking of bread.
And just like that, he’s gone. Which is not a way of saying that he is no longer with us, but that he is present in all times and places, the risen Christ is still known in the breaking of bread. If I could speak one word to all of us, but especially to those in this room who were privileged to break bread at Grandma’s table – we received a gift, from her hand, yes, but at an even deeper level, from the Christ who met us, through her love and graciousness and life, at that table. For this gift, we can only say thanks be to God.
Never discount the Table. It is the place where God meets us and feeds us, it is our true home. Here we catch a glimpse of the Kingdom, where all the pain and brokenness of this world will be taken up into the loving hands of God, who gives us the very gift of his son, body and blood, for our healing. Grandma used to say, sometimes quite pointedly, turn off that T.V. and get outside. It’s too pretty to be holed up in this house. Get up out of that bed and come to breakfast. We’re ready to eat. Take time to sit at table with your family and friends. Turn off the television, put away the paper, take the phone off the hook, and just be. They are gifts, you know, from the very hand of God, and God meets us there.
To see these gifts, to receive them, takes time – and those of us who dined at her table learned something of what it means to receive the gift of life. As we worship God this day, as we remember the one I called Grandma, may this worship and these memories help us see more clearly the gift of God. It is the witness of our faith that even now, in the joy of the resurrection, Grandma takes her place at the glorious Table in the Kingdom of our beloved Christ. In the breaking of that bread, her eyes are opened, her voice restored, her baptism – and her joy – complete, her life abundant.
I find myself from time to time reflecting on what it will be like in the Kingdom of God. I think it might be something like Second Creek on an early summer evening, the water still in the fading light, our skin slightly, joyfully burned, as we sit at the bottom of the hill swapping stories and laughing. And then a familiar voice calling, “Time for supper,” and we carry our tired bodies up the hill to the table, home at last.
Now to the One who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all we can ask or imagine, to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
That is a rich and beautiful sermon Chris. Thank you for sharing it. I am so glad I got to hear about your Grandmother. Your words painted such a nice story in my mind. I am not sure what my favorite part is, but it is between the 5:30 breakfast with all at the table or the wine making.
Chris,So sorry to hear about your grandmother's death. But so thankful to be able to share in this worship. I just finished Tom Long's funeral book. I suspect he would approve.I know I do. I love you, friend.Bob
This is so, so beautiful. It sounds like your grandmother was a wonderful woman and a terrific blessing to you and your family. I'm sorry for your loss, but so happy that you have such warm memories of a woman who had such a positive impact on your life.
Your eulogy for your grandmother was very moving. It also brought a smile to my face as I remember my mother, the meals around the table, the homemade wine. She went to the Church Triumphant 4 years ago and I still miss her every day.