Sermon for December 28, 2002
Grandma Anderson Decides to Die
Isaiah 61:10-62:3, Galatians 4:4-7, Luke 2:22-40
For a few years now, Ardice had gone to the nursing home almost ever other day to spend some time with her aunt Janice known in the family as Grandma Anderson. Sometimes the visits were short. Sometimes long. Sometimes filled with words. Other times filled with silence. Sometimes filled with financial matters, check book management and medicare bills. Sometimes filled with memories of things that happened long ago.
All Christmas season, Ardice wondered if her aunt would make it through the holidays. This past November, her aunt, had substantially slipped. Janice, or Grandma Anderson, was not as aware as in the past. Physical difficulties mounted. She hardly ever got out of bed. There was less energy. It was almost as if life itself was draining from her. At some level Ardice realized that Grandma was going to die soon. She was not sure when. But she knew that before long, she would loose her mother's sister.
With that, it had been a more difficult, more taxing, Christmas season than usual. It seemed more pressing. Ardice tried to make sure that everyone in the family came to see Grandma Anderson. "You never know," she had said, "This could be her last Christmas." And as she said that over and over, all of the joys, disappointments, and stresses of the season were etched more deeply in her own heart.
By the third week of December, it had become difficult for Grandma to talk. Most of the time she simply slept. As her pain had grown, so had the drugs, and sleep was a relief now. But occasionally she was awake, and Ardice had recalled several conversations with her mother about death and dying.
Grandma said she was ready to die. She had lived a good and full life. Much had been accomplished. There were some disappointments. Some unfulfilled dreams. But she felt good about life. She was ready. Ardice had tried to suggest that she had much to live for still. But Grandma's argument was compelling. To Janice Anderson, life had been full, this was the end, and it was time to be received by God into heaven.
Grandma said that she was aware that this was Christmas time. She wanted to see the people who stopped by for Christmas. As she was able, she greeted those of her family who came by. Many times during the holiday season people came to her room and held her hand.
On Christmas day, after the family meal, the Andersons gathered, about ten in all, drove over to the nursing home, and spent time there. Janice, through a medicated haze, seemed happy, peaceful, content.
The day after Christmas, while a few were still in town, Grandma Anderson's doctor called Ardice to say that it appeared that she could die at anytime. "Days or hours?" Janice asked. The doctor responded that it was probably hours.
They drove out to the home, entered the room. Once last time, Grandma spoke. "I'm ready," she said. "I know," Ardice responded, and with those words came a calm sense of peace, a shift in the light of the room, family tears, and she was gone.
In the gospel story today, two older people decide that
the promise of their lives has been fulfilled. They are Simeon and Anna. They
remind us to think on the older prophetic people around us. Simeon is now ready
to say goodbye.
His famous words are: Lord, let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples.
The words have been used for centuries by Christians in the last rites as they have said goodbye to this earth and have greeted their creator.
Often the older ones around us, live with the confidence of that faith, as God continues their lives. And as they live in faith, they give us the vision of dignity in the midst of indignity, and joy in the midst of suffering. Their presence is often a testimony to the value of faith and hope over the years. Their faith in Jesus continues to sustain them and will provide for their movement into the coming kingdom of God. We have may many Simeons and Annas around us.
Our elder Christians, sometimes like Grandma Anderson, decide their own fate more than we might suspect. They summon from deeper reservoirs of faith to make it through a final Christmas or Easter, a wedding, baptism, or graduation, bearing witness to the importance of living life well and fully to the end.
And then it is time to go. It is always a time of sadness when we say goodbye to the ones we love, even when we somewhat expect it. But Simeon and Anna, the elders of the gospel of Luke, have experienced what they were looking for, they proclaim their insight for the next generation, especially for Mary, the mother of Jesus, and then they pass from the story.
In memory of the elders of the story, we could do no better than
to live our lives so that we too in our own time can also say Lord, let your
servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation.
In memory of the elders of the story, we could do no better than to share, as Anna shared her wisdom with a young Mary, our own wisdom with those around us who are facing more difficult challenges and possibilities than we could have imagined for ourselves.
In memory of the elders of the story, we could do no better than to dedicate our own lives to living Christmas in small acts of courage, peacemaking, reconciliation, forgiveness and love, resolving in the year ahead to find that small way that we can make a difference, and then acting upon it.
In memory of the elders of the story, we could do no better than to find ourselves throughout the year in this sacred space, the space where Anna and Simeon spent so much time. They would have never met Jesus had they not been in the temple.
In memory of the elders of the story, we could do no better than to with gentleness and love assist those around us through the final years of life with grace and tender understanding.
For we too have seen the light of salvation, and whether we are older or younger, it has left its brightness in our hearts.