I don’t usually post funeral sermons on this blog, but a few people asked for this.
Funeral Homily for Ann Ward
November 13, 2014
Ann left specific instructions for her funeral and her reception. She picked out the music and recommended specific flowers. She said that there would not be any steamed shrimp or crab at her reception and specified what beverage would be provided. Is there anyone here who does not know what she asked for? Classic Coke. Ann was also pretty clear that she did not want an open casket. Her exact words were: “I don’t want anything at the funeral home…particularly no open casket. I don’t want people looking down at me and saying… ‘doesn’t she look good…considering.’ How can one look good when they are dead?” That was Ann, making us laugh, even at her funeral.
I first met Ann when I was interviewing for this position. She showed me around the church and then drove me to lunch. I knew we would get along when I got in her car and saw a coaster that said, “Jesus loves everyone, but I’m his favorite.” Ann would not want us to be morose on this occasion. She would want us to celebrate the wonderful life she had. She had so much joy in her life. And I don’t mean she was always chipper and happy. She was joyful. It was a joy that came from within as if it burned at the center of her being and I could not help but smile when I saw her.
There are so many dimensions to Ann and almost all of you know her better than I did. There was of course her love of animals. After her first extended stay in the hospital, she came home and started making me this stole for the animal blessing. She made the last rector one as well. Her pets were precious to her, which is why we chose this gospel reading. This reading from John depicts Jesus as a shepherd who cared for his sheep. Jesus was not a typical shepherd. Not all shepherds would give their life up for their sheep. The good ones took great care of their sheep, but Jesus laid down his life for his sheep. For Jesus, each sheep is precious, each is his favorite.
While Ann loved animals, she loved people as well. Not only that, but people loved her. She was in the hospital for several months and I can only think of one or two times when I went to see her where she did not already have a visitor. She was a loyal friend and a loyal member of this church. You can’t get far without seeing some evidence of Ann’s work in this church. She was incredibly creative and loved to work with wood. All of the hand carved signs in the parish hall were made by Ann. Jesus was a carpenter as well. There is something profound about taking something that is essentially died (wood) and making it new again….recreating it.
On earth Ann was like that unformed wood. It was beautiful wood. It was solid and strong. It served many purposes. But now that wood is being recreated by the greatest carpenter the world has ever seen. Ann asked not to be buried in a metal casket because it seemed too cold and there was nothing cold about Ann. I don’t know much about caskets, but I know that Ann is in a place where the radiance of God’s love surrounds her. She will never be cold. She will be surrounded by peace and love and her memory will remind us of what it is to know God and understand what true Christian joy is.
While we should not feel defeated by her death, it’s impossible not to feel the weight of the loss. It’s hard to imagine how such a small person in stature could create such an enormous hole when she is gone.
Some of you might know that slogan of St. John’s Church is “fightin sin since 1610.” What many of you may not know is that Ann came up with that. She told me that she was sitting in church and she heard it like a message from God. Well Ann has now joined the heavenly chorus. She is not fighting sin anymore. She is now in paradise with Jesus Christ, the one who truly defeated sin and gave us new life. I want to close with a beautiful description of Ann that Letia Drewry provided for me. She was a “surrogate mother, sister-friend, fierce advocate, trusted advisor, Lamaze coach, Godmother to Alex, shopping companion, truth teller, thoughtful listener, confidant, cheerleader, guide through the dark times, gift giver, partner in crime, fellow seeker, enthusiastic gadget finder, chicken and rice maker, and just fun, dog-loving, creative, ready for the next adventure, Auntie Ann.” Ann is indeed on her way to her next adventure.