A Homily in Thanksgiving for the Life of Christine Wied
by The Rev. Elaine Breckenridge, February 15, 2014
Episcopal Church of St. John the Baptist, Lodi
Listen to this…Chris Wied’s Memorial EHB
From the Book of Proverbs, “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”
It is not very often that I turn to the biblical Book of Proverbs for inspiration or guidance, but then it is not very often that I am called upon to offer words for a final blessing on someone like Chris Wied.
So many of the verses in that last chapter of Proverbs give us an image of a wife, a mother, and a woman— which are absolutely impossible to live up to. And yet as I have come to learn more about Chris and understand the kind of impact she had on all of you and so many others, I can say that she was the embodiment of all that is true and honorable, pure and indeed excellent.
“Give her a share in the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the city gates”, says Proverbs. What an accomplished woman she was! Colleagues and co-workers at the time of her retirement from the City of Ventura certainly sang her praises in the form of written tributes. Those city gates praised her as “a strong professional woman, a wise mentor, smart and well organized.”
She was energetic, giving 110 percent to every project she undertook in her role as an educator, developing curriculum on recycling and other environmental topics. She was both praised and missed by so many in her professional world.
Now as most of you know, she shared those same professional talents and abilities in the Episcopal congregations where she lived and served. She was able to organize and delegate in such a way that people had fun doing even the most mundane projects. She sang in choirs, served as a Eucharistic minister, served on vestries and twice as a Senior Warden. God bless her.
And of course she loved music, sang with the Stockton Master Chorale and was a solist in many venues. She was a founding member of St. John and the Arts here.
We can speak of what Chris did, but it is important to speak of who she was. It has been said that “she had a warmth of personality and a beauty of character that left a lasting impression on everyone she met.” She had an uncanny ability to combine energy with peace, creativity and calmness. “Whenever she smiled or laughed everyone was included in that enjoyment.” Mostly she will be remembered as someone who lived her life with gratitude and generosity. As one person said, “her life was like a fine work of art.”
Proverbs also says, “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” Chris was a natural teacher who brought out the best in others. She was self aware and she exuded love and compassion.
To summarize her life and to put it most simply, I say she was a faithful steward. She saw life as a gift, something to be shared, not only with all the people in her life but with God. I am told that her trust in God and her faithfulness simply radiated. Even during the last years of her life, when she was in pain, when cancer had moved in and made it clear that it was not going away, what did she do? She functioned as a healer for others.
She helped other cancer survivors and had a tremendous ability to function as a spiritual guide for others.
I am told that she carried a huge day-timer from which she drew prayers, prayers that she freely read to others, prayers that she gave away. Proverbs describes her again, “She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy.”
And the closer she came to death, the more peaceful she became, always having a smile and a pleasant word for everyone. Again, Proverbs helps me to find a voice, “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.”
Chris was fully present both to life and death, to others and God. Her life was grounded in prayer, both in the work of intercessory prayer, praying for others, and in contemplative prayer as she developed true friendship with God. In all this she showed others how to both live and how to die. Now I am sure that Chris was not perfect. No human being is. Yet, I have no problem thinking of her as a saint. I believe she carries her wisdom, her kindness, and her commitment to service right into the communion of saints.
But while heaven may be richer today, the communities who have been left behind, suffer and grieve. Proverbs calls the “capable wife as far more precious than jewels.” Doug I am sure would attest to that. Proverbs also says, “That her children rise up and call her happy; and they praise her.” All of her family, children, spouses and grandchildren will grieve this loss for some time. This community, this congregation will miss her. Where there is great love, there is also great loss and suffering.
It is all well and good that I might speak of the grace of God in death but how does that help our sorrow at this parting? Surely Chris would understand our sadness and our grief but I also think that she would want us to draw comfort from the faith that we proclaim here week by week, because more than anything Chris was an Easter Christian.
That means she would want us to stand strong outside of the empty tomb of Jesus, not looking inside to the place of death, but looking instead for our path to the future, ready to follow the Risen Christ.
In an extra-ordinary book called, Praying our Goodbyes, author Joyce Rupp writes about our resurrection faith saying, “The beauty of the Easter mystery, the mystery of the Passover over from death to life, of moving from goodbye to hello, is that it ends with hello. If Calvary is the deepest goodbye that anyone has ever known, then the resurrection is the greatest hello that anyone has ever proclaimed. Jesus risen is a proclamation of hello. We must look upon our goodbyes from the direction of hello. ”
Jesus is a witness to us that when goodbyes do come that we can grow through them. We can be raised from our empty places of loss and can experience something new within us. We must only believe as Mary of Bethany did in our Gospel reading today, that there is something beyond death, that there is something beyond pain and hurt and heartache. We must have faith that resurrection is at work within us.
Now of course, what is difficult for all of us is that the work of resurrection does not happen in the twinkling of an eye. Healing has a timetable of it own. But let us remember that though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we do not walk it alone.
With the eyes of faith, let us learn to look and see that just over the horizon is the reality of life lived in the resurrection. With the eyes of faith let us look into our own hearts remembering that the Easter mystery says that each of us carries a storehouse of resiliency, vitality, fidelity, love and endurance.”
Resiliency, vitality, fidelity, love and endurance. Don’t those words describe Chris? Perhaps then the most loving thing we could do to remember her, would be to dig deep into our own storehouses of suffering, and allow God to transform us just as God transformed her.
Therefore, I say, today let us choose life. Let us cherish the fact that life by God’s design is only a temporary gift. Like Chris, we must see God’s gift in each moment. This is the practical lesson which death and especially this death, can teach us.
Death does not have the last word because today we celebrate Chris’ birth into the Communion of Saints. But honestly, none of us really knows what the afterlife might be like and while our tradition is clear about the eventual resurrection of our bodies, we are left with a sense of mystery about how we make that transition. Recently, I have been comforted with the an image of dying found in the Celtic Christian tradition. Celtic Christianity taught that when we die we are met by appointed women, saints of heaven who help us cross the river that divides the worlds of this life and the next. They saw death as re-birth, and the women functioned much like mid-wives.
Chris was a mid-wife in this life having worked as a natural childbirth instructor. Perhaps we can take some comfort imagining that Chris is a watching woman now, smiling, laughing, extending her loving presence to welcome others across the river of death into life in the communion of saints. “A woman who honors the Lord is to be praised.” So it is written in Proverbs. So it was written in the life of Chris Wied.
Chris we praise you and we give you our blessing. We commend your Spirit to Almighty God, trusting that resurrection is at work in our lives even as it is work in yours. Amen.