the Funeral for Wanda Jean [Howell]

Psalm 126
We believe in life!

The last time I was here – in this exact spot – was eleven years ago. March 23rd, 2009. That was the day we laid Bill to rest. It was eighty-one degrees, that day. Winds out of the south at a gentle twenty-five miles per hour, gusting to thirty-seven. It was a typical West Texas Spring day. And other than the wind, I remember the fields. The pastures. The farmland. All around us. As far as we can see. It, probably, wasn’t as green, back then, as it is today, as early in the season as it was. I don’t think they were, even, getting the earth ready for another year. Plowing. Sowing. Sprouting. Doing all the things Wanda grew up watching. Learning to count the years, not by months, but by seasons. By Springs and Falls. By seedtimes and harvests. That was the rhythm, the pulse, of this part of the world. Even here … even now … if you listen … you can, still, hear it. Life appearing before our eyes. Slowly. Surely. And we do nothing to make it happen. Sure, we weed … we fertilize … we water … we spray … We do our best, we try our hardest, to stack the deck in our favor. But as Paul reminds us, it’s god and god alone who makes it grow. Not because of our efforts, but in spite of them, life, simply, happens.

We began, this afternoon, with a song. “In the Garden.” And it was about all of this. The lyrics were written by an American pharmacist-turned-hymn writer, in a cold, dreary, leaky basement back in New Jersey, a little over a hundred years ago. The garden he had in mind was the one in John twenty. The garden where Jesus had been buried. And the poet imagined what it must have been like, that first Easter morning, as Mary Magdalene stood weeping outside the empty grave. When she mistook the risen Lord for a gardener, for a farmer. A garden. A field. Where life springs up from the earth! A garden just like all this. Where seeds are buried and life appears. Magically. Miraculously. Marvelously. This isn’t an earth-to-earth, ashes-to-ashes, dust-to-dust kind of place. But just the opposite. It’s heartbeat-to-heartbeat! Breath-to-breath! This is where the green blade rises from the buried grain! Life happens in places like this!

That’s why I picked the passage I did. Not because it meant something – anything – to Wanda. It wasn’t hanging on a wall in her house. Cross-stitched. Calligraphied. I chose it because it reminded me of this place. Of this garden. Where her roots are …

May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.

Life happens! It, simply, rises up from the ground. It appears in the garden. It appears in the fields. And it appears, especially, here, in the cemetery.

This afternoon, the seed we sow is our sister Wanda Jean. This afternoon, the seed we sow is our cousin. The seed we sow is our mother and our grandmother and our great grandmother. The seed we sow is our friend. And like all those before us … the gardeners … the farmers … we, too, go out weeping. We sow in tears. And gently, tenderly, we lay her to rest. We place her deep within the earth. And like the others, we plant in the hope … in the faith … in the knowing … that life happens! That life always happens! Even here! Even now!

This is the end; but this is the beginning, as well! We weep! We cry! But at the same time … at the same time … we, also, believe! And it’s the believing that brings us here! It’s the believing that inspires us – dares us – to say, “Amen!” We believe! We believe in the heartbeat! We believe in the promise! We believe in the breath! Believe that life has the last say! Believe that life has the final word! With Wanda with every other seed ever planted in this ground! Wheat … Cotton … Even people … In promise and in hope, they all have been laid to rest, they all have been buried, planted, in the certain and sure! My friends, today, we sow in tears. We go out weeping. But we, also, believe! Even here, even now – maybe especially here and especially now – we believe in life!

Posted by Midland Lutheran Church on Thursday, May 14, 2020