Sermon

Isaiah 61:1-3

 

A Rumor of Resurrection

A funeral homily for a woman named Eunice

Isaiah 61:1-3

A Rumor of Resurrection

The Rev. Charles Hoffacker

When preparations were being made at the funeral home a few days ago, I found out something about Gerry.  I found out something that perhaps many of you do not know or hadn’t thought about for a while.  What I found out was her middle name.  It is Eunice.

This name caught my attention for several reasons.  First, my late grandmother was named Eunice, Eunice Niblett of Cardiff, Wales.  Second, Eunice is a rare name today.  It is, you might say, a grandmotherly name.  Go to the playgrounds of this city, and you will not hear little girls calling to each other, “Hey, Eunice!”  Instead, for the time being, Eunice is a grandmotherly name: Eunice Niblett of Cardiff, Wales; Geraldine Eunice Oliver of Fort Gratiot, Michigan.

There’s a third reason Gerry’s middle name caught my attention.  It is the origin of the name.  For you see, Eunice is a name from the New Testament.  There’s a Eunice who makes a brief appearance there in the biblical story, and I have come to believe that this biblical Eunice, herself a mother, may cast some light on the life of the mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, family member, and friend we remember today: Geraldine Eunice Oliver.

In his second letter to his young associate Timothy, Paul the Apostle mentions Timothy’s sincere faith, which dwelt first in his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice. [2 Timothy 1:5.]  So Eunice is the mother of Timothy, a close associate of St. Paul.  Paul’s point in mentioning her and her mother Lois is to bolster his young associate by reminding him that he stands in a tradition of Christian experience.

Elsewhere in the New Testament we learn that Eunice was a Jewish woman who had become a Christian, and that her husband, perhaps deceased by this point, was a Greek. [Acts 16:1.]  So Eunice is a name shared by the mother of Timothy and the mother of Bill and Pat.  As St. Paul reminded Timothy to remember where he came from and find strength and comfort in doing so, even now I invite all of you, relatives and friends of Gerry, to remember where you come from, to find strength and comfort in doing this.

Give thanks for Gerry, and for the gifts she put to use, and for the love which these gifts expressed.  Give thanks for the way she labored in industry, how she was a wonderful cook, an immaculate homemaker, a skilled crafter, and someone who knew how to have fun with cards and crossword puzzles and in the company of people she loved.

Recognize that for each of us, our experience of God’s love, our receptivity to it, is shaped by the love of parents.  Someone who is a caring mother, grandmother, great-grandmother is by that fact something of a herald of God’s good news.

Eunice, a woman from Galatia who was Timothy’s mother.  Eunice Niblett from Cardiff in Wales.  Geraldine Eunice Oliver of Fort Gratiot, Michigan.  Three women separated in space and time, yet connected by a name and maybe more.

Here in St. Clair County, it seems that, if you look carefully, you’re connected with everybody else in at least one way, maybe several.  And so, although I did not know Gerry while she lived on earth, I find I have more than one connection with her: through her son Bill, a faithful member of St. Paul’s, and through her great-granddaughter McKale and McKale’s family, who are good friends and supporters of my daughter in their shared interest in ice skating.  Many connections.

And all of us here today can point to our own connections with Gerry and her family: all of us have been placed together with them in what Scripture calls the bundle of the living, the precious package of those for whom the Lord cares. [See 1 Samuel 25:29.]  This is a reality worth remembering, particularly on a day such as today.

The Christian faith takes this a step further.  It not only recognizes the numerous ways in which people are connected, but it goes on to assert that all our stories have their place within one great story, which is the life of God and his people.  Eunice of Galatia, Eunice of Cardiff, Geraldine Eunice of Fort Gratiot; Bill and Pat, their children and grandchildren and other relatives; my daughter and me and every last one of the Blue Water Blades; whether or not we know it, each one of us plays our part in God’s great story, and not a single one of us is unknown or forgotten.

The Christian claim is this: that in Jesus, the divine Word becomes human.  The divine Word takes on human nature, the human nature common to all of us, believer or unbeliever, sinner or saint, each and every one of us.  Jesus, the Word made flesh, calls each of us sister or brother.

The solidarity he establishes with the entire human race is unbreakable.  He goes to the cross with our humanity.  He rises from the grave with our humanity.  He ascends into heaven with our humanity.  He reigns forever with our humanity.  In him our human nature enjoys its happy ending and its glorious new beginning.

So today we celebrate our connections one with another. and we are invited to look at those conmnections in the light of God’s big story.  We find ourselves able to entrust Gerry to God’s never-failing love, thankful for all she has meant to us, and all she continues to mean.

Before we go on to pray for ourselves and for her, allow me to say one thing further about Gerry’s middle name, for the word itself contains a rumor of resurrection.

The name Eunice is Greek.  It means “good victory.”  Easter is the best of all victories: Christ’s triumph over the forces of death.  Gerry has left us to realize the meaning of her middle name.  She has gone forth to share in a victory big enough for us all.

  • Copyright 2008, Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission. Fr. Hoffacker is the author of A Matter of Life and Death: Preaching at Funerals (Cowley Publications), a book devoted to helping clergy prepare funeral homilies that are faithful, pastoral, and personal.