Below is a copy of the sermon I preached on Wednesday, December 21, in honor of Patty McNeely. You can find a podcast of the entire service, including the sermon, on the Cove Podbean page. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.
Well, here we are, less than a week before Christmas, remembering the life of somebody that y’all knew and loved, a friend, a wife, a mother, a sister who is no longer with us. And I’ll tell you, just saying that, well, it just doesn’t seem right, because death just doesn’t fit into the Christmas season, does it? I mean, Christmas supposed to be a time of joy and of peace and of hope. And yet, here we are, dealing with Patty’s death. I’ve got to tell you, somehow It just doesn’t seem right that, at this time of year, we’re dealing with the loss of a good person, and because of that, I think it might be a real challenge to feel joyful right now. I mean, regardless of the circumstances, what y’all are feeling right now just doesn’t seem to fit the spirit of this joyous season.
But you know, although I don’t think that today, this afternoon, joy is anything close to easy, I do think y’all can feel two other emotions that we generally associate with Christmas, and I’ll tell you, they’re feelings that can support y’all and strengthen y’all as you move through this time of grief. In other words, although right now you may not be able to feel a whole lot of joy; even in the face of death, you can feel peace and hope. And let me tell you what I mean.
You see, first, right here and right now, I certainly believe y’all can feel peace. I mean, just think about the Psalm we read: “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” You see, that’s something we can know, that the Lord God is our helper, he does protect and guide us, and he’s the one who holds us in his hands. And according to Paul, nothing can separate us from our Lord, nothing can remove us from his strong and gracious hands, my goodness, “...nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” You see, right there, in these words, we can find peace, can’t we: a peace that comes from knowing that Patty was and is and will always be in the hands of God, a God who loved her before the foundation of the earth. You see, like a good shepherd, God has already led her through the valley of the shadow of death. For Patty that’s already happened. But you know, that’s not the only reason we can feel peace. We can also experience it by believing it ourselves, in other words, by simply trusting that God is who he said he is and that at this very moment, he couldn’t love us more than he does right now. And I’ll tell you something else, he’s going to lead y’all through this, too. Take it to the bank, he’s going to give you support and he’s going to give you comfort. And that’s something of which we can all be sure. You see, in middle of your grief, you can know peace. And that’s one aspect of the Christmas season we can feel this afternoon.
But you know, that’s not all. Second, I also think y’all can feel hope, hope grounded in the word and promises of God. I mean, just think about what Isaiah saw, a time when those who have gone before us “will mount up with wing like eagles, they will run and not be weary, they will walk and not faint.” And of course John, that wonderful vision he had of our future, in a new heaven and a new earth, a place where God will wipe away all tears from our eyes and where there will be no death and no sorrow and no crying and no pain. You see, that’s our future, a new world, a recreated world. And I’ll tell you, Patty is going to be there, and so will Ralph and Kevin and everybody else who’s gone ahead of her. You see, the time is coming when you’re going to see Patty again, and it’ll be in a new and glorious world. I’ll tell you, that’s the nature of our hope. And in the meantime, in this time of separation, as we look forward to the day, y’all can remember. Now I didn’t know Patty, and I’m not going to pretend that I did. But y’all did; therefore, y’all can remember all those qualities that Patty had that made her the special person that she was. And y’all can tell the stories, stories that I don’t know but that you do, stories that will keep her alive in your hearts and your minds. And y’all can look forward to the day, the day when we’ll all be together. You see, right now, we can certainly live with hope.
And so, I know it’s difficult to deal with this kind of loss so close to Christmas and because of that, feeling joy is sort of a reach. Still, I think y’all can feel peace and hope, peace knowing that Patty is in the hands of God and so are we, and hope grounded in the assurance that one day you’re going to see her again in a new and glorious world, one where there’ll be no more partings or pain and death. And although it may not come this year, maybe during some future Christmas season, you’ll be able to look back on the life of our sister Patty and look forward to the reunion that’s coming
and truly feel joy.