From the Letter to the Hebrews:

Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Hebrews 12:1-2 (NRSV) – January 5, 2013.)
Original Illustration for God's TrombonesToday in my parish church we will be celebrating a Requiem Mass for a life-long member of the congregation, a spinster lady named Nancy who died a few weeks ago at the age of 81. She had never married, but she had a large family made up of those who had grown up in our town and county during the 1950s and 1960s for she had been the community’s “bookmobile lady.” There are many here who remember her in that way. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews, recalling perhaps the admonition in Ben Sira to remember those of whom “there is no memory . . . [who] have perished as though they had never existed . . . [but] whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten” (Sirach 44:9-10), reminds us of all those who relied on the promise of God and were commended for their faith. Nancy, whose life we celebrate today, was surely one of those.

At her requiem, I will read this wonderful poem by James Weldon Johnson entitled Go Down, Death — A Funeral Sermon. It is a poem I often read at the funerals of those who have passed away after a long life of service to family and community. As you read it here, where the poet names Sister Caroline, think of our sister Nancy:

Weep not, weep not,
She is not dead;
She’s resting in the bosom of Jesus.
Heart-broken husband — weep no more;
Grief-stricken son — weep no more;
Left-lonesome daughter — weep no more;
She only just gone home.

Day before yesterday morning,
God was looking down from his great, high heaven,
Looking down on all his children,
And his eye fell on Sister Caroline,
Tossing on her bed of pain.
And God’s big heart was touched with pity,
With the everlasting pity.

And God sat back on his throne,
And he commanded that tall, bright angel standing at his right hand:
Call me Death!
And that tall, bright angel cried in a voice
That broke like a clap of thunder:
Call Death! — Call Death!
And the echo sounded down the streets of heaven
Till it reached away back to that shadowy place,
Where Death waits with his pale, white horses.

And Death heard the summons,
And he leaped on his fastest horse,
Pale as a sheet in the moonlight.
Up the golden street Death galloped,
And the hooves of his horses struck fire from the gold,
But they didn’t make no sound.
Up Death rode to the Great White Throne,
And waited for God’s command.

And God said: Go down, Death, go down,
Go down to Savannah, Georgia,
Down in Yamacraw,
And find Sister Caroline.
She’s borne the burden and heat of the day,
She’s labored long in my vineyard,
And she’s tired —
She’s weary —
Go down, Death, and bring her to me.

And Death didn’t say a word,
But he loosed the reins on his pale, white horse,
And he clamped the spurs to his bloodless sides,
And out and down he rode,
Through heaven’s pearly gates,
Past suns and moons and stars;
on Death rode,
Leaving the lightning’s flash behind;
Straight down he came.

While we were watching round her bed,
She turned her eyes and looked away,
She saw what we couldn’t see;
She saw Old Death. She saw Old Death
Coming like a falling star.
But Death didn’t frighten Sister Caroline;
He looked to her like a welcome friend.
And she whispered to us: I’m going home,
And she smiled and closed her eyes.

And Death took her up like a baby,
And she lay in his icy arms,
But she didn’t feel no chill.
And death began to ride again —
Up beyond the evening star,
Into the glittering light of glory,
On to the Great White Throne.
And there he laid Sister Caroline
On the loving breast of Jesus.

And Jesus took his own hand and wiped away her tears,
And he smoothed the furrows from her face,
And the angels sang a little song,
And Jesus rocked her in his arms,
And kept a-saying: Take your rest,
Take your rest.

Weep not — weep not,
She is not dead;
She’s resting in the bosom of Jesus.

Nancy, and all that great cloud of witnesses, have gone to take their place with Jesus at the right hand of the throne of God.


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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.