January 25, 2018 (The Conversion of Saint Paul) The Funeral of Leona Hoatson

Ecclesiastes 3:1–8, Psalm 121, John 14:1–6

The Rev’d Dr. Jeffrey S. F. Nelson+

In the name of Jesus, who is Resurrection and who is Life. Amen.

Here’s the thing about those who die in the faith of Jesus: their death is not death at all but a homecoming. On the night before he dies, Jesus, in our reading from John’s Gospel, counsels the disciples not to let their hearts be troubled. Amid things they don’t understand, Jesus tells them, “Believe in God, believe also in me.” He then goes on to give them a word of comfort: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” Jesus’ death is not death, but the gateway to life; and his resurrection is the assurance of life for those who believe in him so that when they die, they will meet Jesus who has gone before to prepare a place for them in the loving presence of God. This is what we, as people of faith, believe; and this is what we, as people of faith, claim this day for Leona—that she has a home in the loving prepared for her by Jesus. She is not dead; she has come home.

When I think of home, I think of a secure place in which all are welcomed as they are, nourished, and loved unconditionally. It seems to me that this is precisely the thing Leona was about in her life. When her husband John returned home from the service in Korea, the couple settled on the family ranch north of Hershey to farm. Being a farm wife was a hard life which, at its core, was about creating a home for all involved with the farm. Responsibilities included feeding those who worked on the farm, often multiple times a day, keeping the house up, and often, helping do the farm work that was constant and never ending. These things Leona did while also creating a home for her four children, and, eventually, bringing extra money into the household while working at various places in the community. Even her work in the community reflected a commitment to home—working in the Hershey Public Schools, which is dedicated to nurturing and educating children; working at a grocery store; being the Housekeeping-Laundry Supervisor for Bethesda. In all she did, it seems to me, she created home spaces in which people would be welcomed, nourished, and loved unconditionally. This was her life; and this is the life she is now called to, though this time, not as the giver but the recipient of a gracious welcome, abundant nourishment, and unconditional love in the loving presence of God.

In the meantime, those of you left behind must cope now without Leona in your lives. This will not be easy. You will miss this amazing woman who created home for you in this life. You will want to see her again, talk to her again, experience the home she created for all who came in contact with her, but she will not be there, and that will be hard. But know this, while she is not here, physically present in this world any longer, she lives in the home created for her by her loving Savior, Jesus; and she waits in that home until the time when she will bid you come and claim the home prepared for you in the presence of her loving God. In the meantime, take comfort in the fact that God will wipe away the tears of your grief and be with you in the days, weeks, and months ahead until the memory of your beloved Leona ceases to be a reminder of your painful loss and becomes beautiful memories that will sustain you for the rest of your days. In this way, she lives with you in your home here on earth until you join her in your home with God. Amen.


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