A Homily in Memoriam for Peggy Buresh, December 15, 2013
My enduring memories of Peggy Buresh will not be her body in the last year of her life on this earth the way that this earth is now. They will be of all her years of life leading into this past year, and there are words that immediately come to mind when we think of Peggy: Nature, health, wholeness, humor, happiness, strength, tender love, ministry, mother, wife, Jesus.
On the morning that Peggy died Scott received an email from Susan, an old teacher of his who was also a friend of theirs. Scott was so impressed that in just the little time that Susan had known Peggy, how Peggy had marked her life, and remembered her so accurately. Susan wrote some words that morning that we can all agree with:
“It’s been such a great pleasure to know Peggy and to be part of your lives, not only while you were here in Charlottesville, but also over the years as your family and your life projects developed, and your daughter grew into such beautiful and thoughtful women. I have always been so fond of Peggy, a beautiful woman full of life and love for her family and friends, a true and steady partner to you in a relationship I always admired, and of course a splendid loving mother and role model for her remarkable daughters. Peggy is a great gift to us all!”
When I think of Peggy, I think in the color green, and it’s not just because of her loyal devotion to kale. Green is the color of life, and Peggy was full of life, and today Peggy is more full of life than she was in any of the years of her life on this earth. When I think of Peggy I shall think of a gorgeous and tall flower, something like a stargazer lily, that already had fragrant flowers open on the stem, but that was putting forth it’s biggest blossom in a final season, with an sweet scent that became sweeter as it kept opening. How many of us encountered God through Peggy in this past year? How many of us smelled Jesus around her?
It’s amazing to me how God was with Peggy in this past year and preparing her for more life, for that which is most Real, giving her compelling glimpses of as she was getting ready to experience it.
In late January Peggy came out to our home at Corhaven for 3 1/2 days, for a personal spiritual retreat, the first time she’d ever taken a retreat like that, alone for so long, to simply be with Jesus, to see what God would say to her. She was there to take a big step in God’s direction, and she arrived somewhat anxious, like a lot of people do for something like this…”What if God doesn’t show up?” “What if I can’t hear him?” “What if I get bored?…That’s a lot of silence!” And she was full of questions about her next season of life…she wanted to give God her best in the next season, whatever that meant, and wanted to keep on diving deeper into the unique life that God had given her so she could give it away to others. She arrived a bit nervous…and friends, 3 days later she left peaceful and excited, unconcerned about her next questions because she had met God in ways that she never had before…God met Peggy in ways I can’t easily describe, except they were so real that Peggy left different, and really excited for thejourney and quite unconcerned about the destination. She felt like a whole new world of God was opening up to her, and a whole new way of being with God, and thus a whole new world.
Scott had been praying for her retreat, that she wouldn’t have any of the headaches that had been coming on. And Peggy didn’t. But less than a week later, she was diagnosed with the cancer that would take her. All of those specific questions she had come on retreat with fell off the screen, and what remained was the fact that she had met God in some new and powerful ways, and was boldly going to enter her next season with him, and the details didn’t matter so much, and would unfold, and all would be well.
Here’s what she wrote as she walked out the door…”Now I’ve started a rhythm of retreating with God, and making space to listen, and hear from God…and God gave me insight that I’m free to BE…”
And didn’t we see a different Peggy in this past year? In my interactions with her and Scott’s reports, the word that comes to mind is “hungry”. Peggy was voracious in the past year for God, for knowledge and understanding, for the Bible, for time with those she loves, to tell of her love, hungry for the depth of the Church, and she was hungry for Jesus in the Eucharist. She wanted to understand the world that was opening up to her, this one, and the next one. And so many of you fed her, in so many ways.
As her body diminished, it seemed that her spirit was only growing, that while physically she was dying, more life was growing in her, preparing her for the True Life that comes when we shed the frailty of the bodies we have now. I don’t quite have the words for this, except that somehow in the past year Peggy’s soul was growing, deepening, widening, in preparation for the boundless growth and freedom that began for her at 10.25am on December the 10th, 2013. That final big blossom of the stargazer lily kept blossoming, even today is getting bigger. I told Scott on December 10 that I’d while I’d keep praying for him, I’d started talking to Peggy, and that my words to her were simple…”Rest, Peggy…and Enjoy!” Enjoy now what you wanted to know, and now do know far better than any of us….
Now my friends, make no mistake…Death is awful. I hate it. I hate death. Peggy’s came way too soon for all of us. You know this, I know this…Death comes to us all. And it can come fast. The way it came to Peggy still shocks us. She was more conscientious about health than any of us, and it came, unexpected and swiftly, and too early.
Because death comes to us all, we may think of it as normal. But it is NOT. Death is abnormal. Death when it comes is always an aberration. Death is not the way it’s supposed to be. Every person born from the beginning of the world was made for eternal life, lived with a blossomed soul in a very real body of very real and warm flesh that you can touch and see and talk with, lived with others, lived with God, in a very real and physical world. This was what God intended at the creation of the world and when he created human beings, and will be.
But we did not choose God, and death entered the world, an alien, a foreigner, an enemy too effective, a conquering evil, an unwelcome colonial power, an undifferentiating and all too egalitarian executioner, simply waiting for the chance to kill us. That chance eventually comes, it’s just a matter of when, and how.
And yet, and yet! God entered the world too so that the power of death could be broken. The word “Gospel” means Good News, and Jesus is very good news when you’re staring at death in the face with its bared fangs and hot eyes.
It means something that Peggy died in the season of the Church Year called Advent, when we remember that Jesus Christ, God himself, came to earth in flesh just like our own. Another name for Jesus in Hebrew is Emmanuel, God with us. He came to bring life. He came to conquer the foreign conqueror.
Death entered the world, and Jesus followed hot on it’s heels to overcome it by going through it and coming out on the other side with a real body, flesh and blood, so different and yet so familiar, to show us that it can be done, and make a way for that same story to be our story, should we choose to follow him.
This is all just another way of putting the readings from the Bible that we’ve just heard, from 1 Corinthians 15. This is what the Bible teaches us. This is the hope that it holds out for Peggy and for us. Jesus Christ, God, came to earth, and lived and died as one of us, and conquered death so that death would not have the last word or the final victory. Jesus is the pioneer, the one the one who goes first, he’s the first fruit, the first evidence of the world being a different place, as it will be one day and on that day completely.
And now, in and because of Jesus, death is not the end of a story, but a doorway to a better story. So St. Paul writes in bold letters with exclamation points, almost like a song “‘Death is swallowed up in victory! O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’…The sting of death is sin…But thanks be God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” If you live with Jesus, you don’t have to be afraid of death, for with Jesus death merely becomes the doorway to something far better. Peggy knows that now better than any of us. Thanks be to God for God! Thanks be to God for Jesus! Thanks be to God for Peggy’s life, and thanks be to God for Peggy’s life now.
Oh, we grieve today…we grieve. We have lost Peggy. But, in the words of Bible, “we do not grieve as those without hope.” We have lost Peggy, but Peggy has More. And we shall too, together with her, together with God. It is a day for mourning, yes, and yes, a day for hope.
It seems fitting to quote four writers who have meant so much to the Buresh family, and to many of us.
From Mumford and Sons: “Awake my soul! Awake my soul! Awake my soul! You were made to meet your Maker.”
From CS Lewis’ vision of heaven and the New Earth: ““I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…Come further up, come further in!””
From JRR Tolkien, writing of when God makes all things right and we can see, one of his characters says to another… “I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?”
And from Dallas Willard, who stepped through the doorway this past May. He said, “At ‘physical’ death we become conscious and enjoy a richness of experience we have never known before.” When he was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer, he said, “I think that when I die, it might be some time until I know it.” Dallas’ last words, were “Thank you.”
These are words we have for Peggy today… “Thank you, Peggy…Rest…and Enjoy”. “We will see you soon, as you truly are and have fully blossomed, when we too have become who truly are, when we too have fully blossomed.” This earth made new will smell wonderful…a sweet fragrance, a complex and gorgeous aroma. It will smell like Jesus. Thanks be to God!
In the last year of her life on this earth as it is now, the Sacrament of the Eucharist was especially meaningful for Peggy. She came to understood that in a very real way, though hidden, Jesus is really present to us in this ordinary wine and bread, made extraordinary by Jesus’ Spirit. And Jesus met her in the Eucharist, and fed her hunger, and gave her comfort and courage, and strengthened Peggy for her journey, like daily bread…like Tolkien’s lembas.
The Eucharist, or Holy Communion, or the Lord’s Supper, or this Jesus Meal is many things, and today it’s a pointer…it points to something coming. This table, this little meal, foreshadows one of the great images of God’s Kingdom in Heaven as that of a great Feast at a great Banquet table. We take it in proclamation that Christ has died, that Christ has risen, and Christ will come again. We take it this Advent looking back at Jesus’ first coming….and we take today looking forward to the second Advent, when Christ returns to finish the job he started through his Incarnation, Cross, and Resurrection.
A READING FROM JOHN 6.29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”…
53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread[c] the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”