The details of her life will come later, later in this service, later in the days and months ahead when you pause and think of her. It’ll be something you hear. Something you see. A quiet wind when you stand alone that brings back a memory. Any, all, or more of will bring Ruth and the stories her life created back to you. Cherish them, even if they are sometimes sad. They are the echoes of a life, the sweet pain of a love whose object, for now, has been taken away. In this way she lives with everyone who remembers.
But even for the most famous among us that’s temporary. Some people have been adored by millions while they lived but still managed to, for the most part, fade away as time moved on after their passing. In time, sadly, most of us will be forgotten. Out of sight, out of mind, the stories of our life passing away as those who remember also pass. People always seem to want whatever is new and death quickly becomes old news.
In my Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition we observe the passing of the ones we love with “May their memory be eternal.” Yet how can this be? Even with the greatest exertions of human memory we all will fade from history as our bodies fade into the earth from which we were created.
Some people, rich people, powerful people, notorious people seek to solve this by building great monuments to themselves. The world is filled with objects where great amounts of time, labor, and riches were expended simply to tell history “I was here, I was here”. Mostly such things end up being as silent as their builders, a thing standing alone while the rest of the world goes by.
No, when the people in my parish say “May their memory be eternal” they are talking about the only One with the capability of perpetual reminiscence, God. We wish that those who are departed from us will always be alive and present with God so that even if our frail minds lose track of whom they are, what they are, still everything holy, good, and right about them, and they themselves, will be secure with God.
You see God cares very little about buildings bearing our names, works of art with our signature, how people addressed us, how bright our star was shining when we lived. All of that is temporary, a gift at best, often a hindrance in our pursuit of what really matters, and always eclipsed by the light, the brightness, the glory of eternity and eternity’s God.
Rather its faith, kindness, love, humility, generosity, caring, purity, the things that are the best of our humanity and the closest we humans can draw in likeness to God that endure. An act of true charity matters more than a whole wing of a university with our name on it. A cup of cold water, Jesus tells us, given to a thirsty soul in his name lives on in heaven. A heart that stores its treasure above is a heart that has wisely deposited it’s riches safely and forever.
Life is short, even if you live to a hundred it’s just a blip in eons of existence. We’re reminded about that now as we come to remember and celebrate Ruth. Mother, grandmother, wife, friend, possessed of such a sweet smile and a haven for animals without a home. These are all sweet things, things worth remembering, worth emulating. They are, like all the higher and better things, a memory, a reality that exists well beyond these short lives of ours because they, and the people who have given themselves to them, are in the hands of the Almighty.
What really matters? Jesus tells us it’s not the whims, the urges, the emotions of a moment, the gifts, the goodies, the titles, or where our office ends up. All of that and more, and each of us, can and will be replaced. As the old cross stitch on the wall says “Only one life will soon be passed. Only what’s done for Christ will last.”
Remember that as you gather here. Remember things eternal. Live as if this is your last day because one day you’ll be right. If your dear Ruth has given you any good advice, pointed you in any good direction, called to mind those things that matter and last, demonstrated her faith, or lived any good example, celebrate her life by following.
Someday, our Christian tradition tells us, all these things, the meaningless things, the things that make us sad, everything that batters us as we make our way through, even death itself, will be overcome through Jesus Christ. This death, this moment, what we are going through is calls not just the stories of a life lived and the sadness of a passing to us, but also that hope. Direct your lives towards that day and all will be well even as all is well for the lady from Indiana whose memory is now eternal in the presence of God.