the Funeral of Geneva Louise [Russell]

Romans 8. 31-39
Faith isn’t, foremost and first, about heaven.
It’s about love!

The song was released over thirty years ago, now. About the time I was halfway through my first call. It was a country song. A sad country song as most were back in the day. And every time I heard it – when I was alone – it brought tears to my eyes. Still does … when I’m alone. “That’s My Job” by Conway Twitty. It starts with a father’s love for his son. And it ends with a son’s love for his father. It’s a circle-of-life kind of thing. But there’s one line, one verse, about halfway through, that’s stayed with me. One verse that haunts me, especially at times like this. “I make my living with words and rhymes and all this tragedy should go into my head and out instead, in bits of poetry.”

“I make my living with words and rhymes
and all this tragedy should go into my head
and out instead, in bits of poetry.”

It’s hard to say the words without singing them. But they sound good. They taste, even better. But apart from the “words and rhymes,” that’s why I’m here – why we’re here – this afternoon! To try and make sense out of something that makes no sense. To give meaning to something that’s meaningless. We’re here to transform tragedy – death – into poetry! You see, reality is that the generations rise and fall like a wave surging across time. And we, too, rise and fall with it. For a time, we ride the crest. It’s something everyone has done. Something we’ll all do. And the tragedy is when the ride is, finally, over; when the curtain falls on our part in the play. When it does, our daughters and our sons will come here, just like us, looking for something to believe in … looking for someone to stake their lives on. Come with the same tears in their eyes, with the same lump in their throat, and with the same heavy heart. Hoping, praying, for something to make it all go away. Hoping, praying, for something to make it all better. Closure, we call it. Shut it up. Lock it away. So, we can go on as if nothing happened. They’ll listen to the same worn clichés, the same wearying platitude. Sing the same songs. Say amen to the same prayers. Go through the same actions. But at the end of the day, when all is said, when all is done, someone we loved … someone who loved us … someone who’s always been a part of our world … is gone … no more … And all the golden streets and all the pearly gates and all the choirs of angels will never change that … And the door we try so desperately to shut never quit closes. The tears still come. The ache continues. That’s the sting the apostle writes about.

But then, there’s that line from the song … “and all this tragedy should go into our head and out instead as bits of poetry.” For us, here, this afternoon, it’s not about rhythms and rhymes. It’s not about poetry in the popular sense of the word. For us, it’s about the love! It’s, always, about the love! “Love’s the reason we happened, at all!” That’s how another song puts it. “Love paid for the damage we’ve done! Love bought us the freedom to fall into grace! Love is the last thing to go!” (a la Kris Kristofferson)

That’s why we’re here, today! The tragedy challenges us. Confronts us. One expression of love is over. The love with which Geneva loved us. The love with which we loved her. And we’ve come here, to this place, to rediscover the poetry. We’ve come here to be reminded that love is what matters. That love endures. That love goes on. Love’s gentle, but it’s, also, resilient! Love’s patient, but it’s, also, resistant! Especially at times, at moments, like this. Yes, we come to tell stories. Stories of first times, of last times, of everything in between. And yes, we come here to bid, “Farewell.” But maybe most of all, we come here as our one last act of love, and place Geneva into god’s tender keeping. We gently lay her to rest in god’s embrace.

Today isn’t about halos or harps. It’s not about white robes or wings. It’s about love. It’s always about love. The love that’s come to us. The love that flows through us. Being deeply loved and deeply loving. The love Geneva has for us. The love we have for her. But more than anything, it’s the love god has for each and every! The love god has for one and for all! What we’re feeling at this moment? What we’ll feel for the rest of our life? It’s nothing more – nothing less – than the shadow side of love.

This is our poem. Written not in stanzas and verses. Not in meter and rhyme. But in smiles and in tears. In smiles, in tears, and in crosses. Love, for us, isn’t, just, an attitude or an idea. It’s a life! A life shared! So, this afternoon, look – and look closely … This afternoon, listen – and listen carefully … And you might just begin to understand. This is the tragedy. This heartbreak. This sorrow. But the poem, my friends, the rhythm and the rhyme is the love. The rhyme and the rhythm is, always, the love …