Yesterday morning, I again found myself standing in a cemetery. I was awaiting the start of a memorial service for a much-loved and admired woman who was the mother of a friend of mine. I didn’t know her well. Our only interaction came about two years ago when we were planning the memorial for her sister, who passed away after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s. This was now the third family funeral in two years.
A week and a half ago, I was sitting in Starbucks with her two daughters, planning the service, getting a sense of who she was through their stories. As they spoke, it felt as if the Holy Spirit dropped a text into my mind: Matthew 25, Jesus’ parable of the talents. This was a woman who had spent a lifetime wisely investing her considerable abilities, a woman of wide vision who loved her family and remained active in community service into her nineties. Yes, I could imagine Jesus saying to her, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” And I could also imagine him putting her in charge of something.
After the service, people gathered at her home to eat and to tell stories. My wife and I were the first to arrive. I walked out into the small but well-tended garden behind the house. The dwarf fruit trees were bearing. Next to them, a neat and evenly spaced row of pansies greeted visitors with eager upturned faces. And behind them, rose bushes–or at least, what would be rose bushes come spring. Each had been strongly pruned back to a short and uninviting mass of thick, thorny stems.
It seemed an odd but appropriate symbol. This was a woman who always did what needed to be done–with grace and good will–because what mattered was the future promise of what would bloom in the spring. And as friends and family sat together in her living room telling stories of her life, one could almost imagine it: here, a bud would open; there, another.
It is, I think, what she would have wanted.
There’s an old Christmas song that begins, “Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming from tender stem hath sprung!”–a metaphor for the coming of Jesus that echoes Isaiah 11:1 (“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit”). And as Jesus himself taught his disciples, we, too, are planted to bear fruit (John 15:1-2).
As we drove home, my wife and I had to wonder aloud: what stories will be told when others talk about how any of our lives were spent on this earth?