In Memoriam

Job 33:2-6Psalm 139:1-14 1 Peter 4:7-11 John 14:1-6, 25-27

Julius, you told me the story of how you met Deloris back in 1945. As we gather here today, it seems only fitting to share it with all of those who are gathered here. You were temporarily assigned to Air Transport in Memphis; she was finishing up her nursing program at Baptist Memorial. You first saw her at the fairgrounds, her beautiful chestnut hair and her red dress, which, you told me, “must have attracted me like a bull.” Deloris and her friend were busy saying “no” to all the soldiers trying to get them to share a ride on the roller coaster. You tried your luck, too, but she rebuffed you kindly. “I have no time to ride,” she said.

So you and your buddy got in your car and headed back to base. Traffic was slow, and after a couple of stoplights, you looked over, and saw that red dress riding the trolley car, stopped in traffic alongside you. You offered to give her a ride back home, which she politely refused. But soon the rest of the trolley car, including many of those soldiers who met her at the roller coaster, were on your side, urging them to hop off the trolley car and join you nice gentlemen for a ride. And the rest, it is said, is history.

When I asked you about that surprising second chance, that you would be stopped at the same point in traffic next to this woman who had caught your eye, you didn’t hesitate to name it: “divine intervention.” And while my own theology would tend to be a bit more conservative, it is clear that there is real wisdom in being able to see such moments for the gifts of God’s grace that they truly are.

It is such moments of grace that we are here to celebrate today: to remember Deloris’ more than fifty years of membership here at Oglethorpe Presbyterian Church; for all in her that was good and kind and faithful; her service through the founding of our Food Pantry and Bargain Shop; the receiving of special recognition for that service with the Presbytery’s Outstanding Senior Award in 1991. Throughout this building there are reminders of her handiwork and creativity: the Lord’s Prayer that hangs in the parlor, the large crocheted Last Supper that welcomes us above the stairwell each and every Sunday, even the parament that hangs from the pulpit today are all the work of those hands that rarely, if ever, sat still.

And the house on Woodbine is full of those reminders, too, as we noted just a couple of days ago: the blankets, the cushions, the pillows, her Laboratory stacked high with unfinished projects she had already begun to map out. And one of those projects, an unfinished crocheted lap blanket, sits in the Narthex today alongside her picture; a reminder, perhaps, that none of our lives are ever perfected and finished until we are in that final, full embrace of God.

And yet for me, with all of these signs of creativity and service, there is one vivid memory that sticks out. As Deloris lay in her hospice bed, in those final, difficult months, barely communicating, in and out of sleep, a mere shadow of her truest self, there was something of Deloris that remained firmly intact. She was still able to take those scraps of fabric that you brought her, Judy, to take them in her hands, delicate and shaking though they might be. She would fold them, wad them, arrange them side by side. When all else was gone, it seems, there was still this blessed reflex, this innate muscle memory of creativity, this intuitive knowing what colors and patterns coordinated; which squares belonged next to which; and what shape they should ultimately take.

Today, I invite us to consider this final moment of gentle, creative inspiration. In doing so, I am sure that we will see something of the one in whose image Deloris was created; the one who hems us in, as the Psalm says, and knits us within the womb, the one who molds us as a potter molds the clay, such that our very selves bear something of those divine, gracious fingerprints.

It is surely something to be holding this Service of Witness to the Resurrection on Easter Monday. As we mark Deloris’ passing today, we are held fast by the promise that the empty tomb shows, for her and for us. We become witnesses to that earth-shattering moment of grace that redefines, reshapes, and re-creates each of us in hope, in promise of God’s perfecting, finishing love.

Perhaps it is that we are, each of us, invited to take a look at the fabric of our own lives. And maybe we are being asked to yield ourselves to the one whose delicate, gentle hands knit us, hem us in, mold the clay of our souls, and weave the threads of our lives together such that we are brought here as one unfinished yet beloved project in this sanctuary. Let us look closer for those moments of grace that have been woven in and out of our realities. And let us examine those threads of connection that might just surprise us, even, could it be, in the midst of a Memphis traffic jam.