November 8, 2018 Mass of Christian Burial for Tonchita B. Palmisano

Lamentations 3:22–26, 31–33, Psalm 90, Revelation 21:2–7, John 11:21–27

The Rev’d Dr. Jeffrey S. F. Nelson+

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

Each time I went to visit Chita at Centennial Park, she would inevitably have two questions for me: How is the financial state of our church? and, Am I the oldest member of the parish? My answers became standard and routine. “The church is doing pretty well, financially, though there is always room for improvement, of course. Thanks for keeping tabs, Chita,” and, “Yes, I do believe you are the oldest member, though you are getting a good run for your money from three or four others.” At these answers, she would smile that bright smile of her, though, understandably at her age, she would forget the answers from visit to visit (or from day to day, for that matter). But the questions were important to her and I think tell us some vital things about Chita. That she expressed concern about the financial state of the parish showed her loyalty and faithfulness to the parish. As a long-time member of the parish who contributed much to and received much from the congregation, she wanted to be assured that the parish would be around for many more years to come to minister in this community and beyond. She knew the power of the Gospel in her life and wanted to share the Gospel with others. The vitality of the parish, especially its financial vitality, was central to the ability to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ in North Platte.

As to her age, well, that was a source of personal pride, I think, at least partially so. My impression of Chita is that far from fighting her age, Chita accepted it graciously and whole-heartedly. The older she got, of course, the more difficult life became. Her peers around her at Centennial Park and in her personal life died one-by-one, but she would go on. Where once she took great pride in her appearance—dress, heels, jewelry, purse, hair done just so—in the last year of her life those things mattered less as her strength and health started slipping away from her. Still, Chita accepted the aging process with dignity, knowing that for better or worse, it was a part of life. Herein lies the secret of her faith, I think. Chita knew, deep in her bones, that her life, indeed all of life, was held in the gracious hands of a loving God. The writer of the book of Lamentations, writing in the midst of devastation, watching his homeland being conquered by a foreign power and his kinsfolk being carried off into exile in a foreign land, breaks into this beautiful acclamation of praise: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” This acclamation was Chita’s song as well. The God Chita knew and loved was a God who was faithful to her through the ups and downs of life and through the pain of aging. In the knowledge of God’s faithfulness, Chita could “wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” for she knew that God would sustain her to the end and beyond.

One of the unique features of the architecture of our sanctuary is the sunken baptistry in the back of the church. More than one person through the years, unfamiliar with the baptistry, almost tripped and fell into it. Chita is no exception. The story is told that when Chita first joined the church, she, too, almost fell into the baptistry. “Ugh. I was probably drunk,” she said of the incident in her humorous and self-deprecating way—a story that will live on in the annals of our parish history. But the significance of the font is an important part of Chita’s faith. Washed in the waters of the font, claimed as God’s own beloved daughter, and incorporated into the Body of Christ, Chita today claims the promises of her baptism—promises once made to a grieving Martha who chastised Jesus for not being there to cure her brother Lazarus and keep him from dying. But Jesus purposely stayed away and allowed his friend to die so that the power of God could be demonstrated beyond sickness; so that the power of God could be shown to be stronger even than death. “I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus tells Martha. “Those who believe in me, though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” Chita’s answer to Jesus’ question was a resounding “Yes!” and she quietly, patiently waited through 101 years to claim the promise of her baptism—the promise of eternal life in the arms of a faithful and loving God.

Today, we remember Chita’s quiet patience as she waited for her Lord all those years. Today we celebrate God’s faithfulness—a promise fulfilled—Chita’s new life with Jesus. Amen.

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