We gather here today to celebrate the life of Elsie Kerth Allen, “Gram.” Imagine for a moment the world that Elsie saw. She was born at a time when Civil War veterans populated the area. She grew up during World War I and was well along life’s journey during World War II. She saw the “invention” of television, interstate highways, cell phones, and calculators.
Over those years certain things remained very important to her. Graduating in 1932 from Ursinus College with a degree in education, teaching children obviously was a great joy to her, a means of authentic service. Her true joy though centered on her family.
“Gram” deeply loved her husband Nels, son Tom, grandchildren and great children many of whom join us here today. That love could be somewhat mischievous at times. Recently Elsie’s granddaughter applied for a position to work at Harrah’s and they called Elsie’s home. Elsie later relayed to her granddaughter that they called her because she applied for the job too.
She loved smaller things as well. The dogs. Chocolate. Gin with a splash of water. Volunteering at the library. Plays and orchestra. Watching the fireworks display from the backyard.
And, as is true with all human beings. Elsie was not without a more curmudgeonly side. She was a not fan of change, bugs, winter, doors left open, interruption while watching Philly teams, or anything that blocked her view. She also found the inevitable slowing down with age and the resulting limits on mobility to be hard.
And as is often true with those with streaks of being difficult, underneath lies a deep faith. We began the service reading from her two favorite Psalms. One spoke of the Lord as a Shepherd, the other the Lord as a keeper. That deep channel of faith no doubt saw her through an incredibly long and productive life.
Imagine. Imagine what Elsie is waking to right now. No longer limited by a body slowed and constrained by age, she is returning to youth. Maybe even returning to family and friends who passed before her. Death is nothing more than a transition – from this life to the next.
In that life God – her Shepherd and Keeper – will seek to bless the truest of intentions Elsie knew in this life. He will breathe life into her core desire to help, to serve, to protect, to love. Those parts of Elsie’s life will know new life as Jesus gently centers her into the core of her true self, her true being.
And she will be with you, her beloved family. Death is really a very thin place – the line between the world and heaven – a very thin place. Our job is to welcome the best parts of her spirit into our lives – that thought will bring her presence. God gave her to you because there were unique lessons He believed she could share. He gave you to her for the exact same reason. What are those valuable lessons for you? Give life to them. Give intention to them.
In that way maybe we come to understand that an incredible truth – one that can, thankfully, shatter the very illusions we toil under. Death. The truth is we are beyond death on this journey. One of Elsie’s favorite quotes spoke to this using the words of the poet Robert Frost. “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: It goes on.”
So let our lives go on. Let the sadness of this day remind us of the dearness with which we hold one another. Let the joy of her memory remind us of what life can be.
God’s love seeks our awakening. True, since this awakening implies a kind of death to our exterior self, we will dread His coming in proportion as we are identified with this exterior self and attached to it. But when we understand the dialectic of life and death we will learn to take the risks implied by faith, to make the choices that deliver us from our routine self and open to us the door of a new being, a new reality. Thomas Merton