April 26 – After a brief illness – and a long life

One the saints of our congregation died this week. Betty was 98. The psalmist reckoned 80 to be a long life; Betty lived longer. By all measures, Betty lived not only a long life, but a good life. She will be missed by all who knew her – her three daughters and their families, the residents and staff at her retirement community and the members of her church.

I knew Betty for only five years. But twenty-some years ago when she was reaching the biblical definition of old age, Betty wrote a brief autobiography and gave a copy to each of her daughters. I have been able to read one of the copies and have come to love Betty all the more. Indeed, her life was long and good, and as long as it was, it was better than it was long.

Betty did not spend much time contemplating the nature of things; she mostly rolled up her sleeves and got to work improving the things around her. No non-sense might be one way to describe her, but not “no love.”

One of the ways that Betty frames the story of her life is by the churches that made a difference – the church where she and Carlton were married and the churches where the girls were baptized. When Betty and Carlton made an empty-nest move to Langhorne forty years ago, they found LPC and loved us as much as we loved them. They were almost always Presbyterians save for those few years in Toledo when they were Congregationalists. It seems that all the churches they attended loved them as much as they loved their churches.

We will celebrate the life of Betty when we gather on Sunday afternoon. Stories will be told. There may be some letters to be read; Betty was a letter writer.

But we will also mark the death of Betty. A journalist might say that Betty died after a brief illness, and that is true.  Very little else need be said. Though we do have much to say about the time or nature of our deaths, “after a brief illness” has much to commend to us. After a brief illness death’s sting may not seem so harsh. But death’s sting is always fatal.

Betty died not only after a brief illness, but after a long life. We have much to say about the nature of our lives, if not their length or how they end, then in how they were lived. Betty filled her life with love; love for her family and her friends, love for her church and for her Lord. Perhaps more a Martha than a Mary, Betty showed her love by what she did.

A year and a half ago Betty told me she wanted to add one more bit of Scripture to the list of readings she hoped we might use at her memorial service. She asked that we use 2 Timothy 4:7-8: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

Betty, once quite the athlete, fought the good fight and finished the race. She kept the faith. And because of that faith we mark not only a long life well lived, we mark her death, knowing that by the love of God in Christ Jesus – by faith, Betty knew that love – death has lost its sting. After Betty’s brief illness comes her morning of joy.

See you Sunday.