Funeral Sermon Judy Hall

Funeral Sermon for Evelyn June “Judy” Hall, April 24, 2009, at Pattison Chapel, Medicine Hat. Text: Jn 20:11-18 Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

“Singing Our Goodbyes”

A mother, grandmother, friend, companion, a woman of faith in the Lord, Evelyn June “Judy” Hall, has departed from this life. You who knew and loved her best shall surely miss Judy. Death can be a sad reality for you. However, to grieve is not a sign of faithlessness. Rather, our grief and mourning are natural expressions of the loving care we have for each other, and the genuine sorrow felt when a loved one dies.

Yet, as Christians we are an Easter people, and this is still the Easter season. So, for those of us who believe in the risen Christ, sorrow is trumped by joy; death is trumped by life; grief is trumped by hope. And so we can joyfully sing our goodbyes to our loved one—trusting that they shall share in new, resurrection life with Jesus Christ the risen Lord and Saviour.

The old adage is true: God works in mysterious ways! His wonders to behold. As chaplain of The GSS facility, South Ridge Village, I had the privilege of meeting and knowing Judy for these last few years of her life. Over the years, Judy would enjoy her outings with her friend Henry, and they would sometimes go for drives and, on some Sundays, they would come to the afternoon church services at SRV. Judy was a woman of faith and she loved coming to church—this may well have been one of the legacies she inherited from her grandfather, the Reverend Woods.

Over the years though, I came to realise that Judy especially loved music—both singing and dancing. Whenever musicians came to SRV, Judy would like to attend and participate with great enthusiasm. Attending the weekly Hymn Sings was no exception. Judy seemed to light up with great joy when she could sing her best loved hymns. I would always know that Judy was in attendance at the Hymn Sing, because I knew she had to request her favourite hymn. You see, Judy loved to sing “In the Garden,” which Wally sang earlier. In the garden was definitely Judy’s all-time favourite hymn. And today we included it along with the others to help us sing our goodbyes to Judy.

I find it fascinating and providential that this was Judy’s favourite hymn. Let me explain. In the garden was written by the hymn-writer C. Austin Miles, back in 1912. At heart, it is an Easter hymn, because the garden here actually is based on and refers to the Gospel passage I read, John 20. In the garden, beside Jesus’ empty tomb, on that very first Easter morning is where Mary meets the risen Christ, who calls her by name, and then her grief turns into joy as she recognizes her living Lord and Saviour.

Here is what C. Austin Miles says about the process of writing this hymn: “One day in March, 1912, I was seated in the darkroom where I kept my photographic equipment and organ. I drew my Bible toward me; it opened at my favourite chapter, John 20…That meeting of Jesus and Mary had lost none of its power to charm. As I read it that day, I seemed to be part of the scene. I became a silent witness to that dramatic moment in Mary’s life, when she knelt before her Lord, and cried, “Rabboni!”…Under the inspiration of this vision I wrote as quickly as the words could be formed the poem exactly as it has since appeared. That same evening I wrote the music.” Miles goes on to say: “It is as a writer of gospel songs I am proud to be known, for in that way I may be of the most use to my Master, whom I serve willingly although not as efficiently as is my desire.” (From: Forty Gospel Hymn Stories, by George W. Sanville). This hymn, some of you may remember, was sung in the movie “Places in the Heart,” which won two Academy Awards in 1984.

Speaking of heart, Judy shall certainly be remembered by her family, adopted family, and friends as a wonderful, big hearted person. She was kind, welcoming and loving to most everyone. Her life was albeit an imperfect, yet beautiful parable of spreading love around. In a way, Judy’s love and loyalty to her family, was similar to the love and loyalty of Mary Magdalene in our gospel passage. Mary being the first to go to the tomb of Jesus, and Mary’s grief were signs of how much she loved Jesus. Mary’s willingness to listen to Jesus and go and tell the Good News of
Easter joy: “I have seen the Lord” is the ultimate sign of her love for Jesus, being the first ever preacher of Christ’s resurrection. Judy’s loving acts and kind words were signs of her love for others. I felt something of her love too—whenever I shook hands with her after the worship services and hymn sings, Judy would have a friendly smile on her face and then she’d always thank me.

My hope and prayer for each of you here today is that you too believe in the risen Jesus, like Mary of old, and like your loved one Judy. For in him you too shall know a joy and hope, a peace and love that endures through all the troubles of this life.

I do not think that it was by accident that Judy has left this life behind now, during the Easter season. Rather, I believe it was God’s plan to take her home to heaven at this time. For as a person of faith, she shall now be given a new, resurrection body, which shall never grow old, get worn out, or break down. Her dementia is over, and all else that brought pain and suffering is gone. She is at peace with her risen Christ. Easter is the season of joy and hope. Life eternal waits for us if we believe that Jesus is our Lord and Saviour who forgives our sins and promises that we shall be raised from the dead to dwell with him and all the other people of faith who have gone before us.

So we sing our goodbyes to Judy, trusting that, one day we shall see her again. I would not be a bit surprised that she’s now a beautiful singer and dancer along with a multitude of other saints in the heavenly garden. Hallelujah! Amen.