A non-Catholic relative passed away recently and her funeral service was held in the Lutheran church she had faithfully attended since she was a little girl. Marian and I were close growing up, and that included decades of visits to her small-town environment, plus many walks around the church. Her funeral was actually the first time I had been inside this church.
Its design was a rectangular shape enclosing space for 15 pews on each side of a narrow main aisle. The pews had comfortable red velvet cushions. I was particularly drawn to the five prominent stained glass windows: two narrow panels in the sanctuary flanking the altar, one in the vestibule, and a large one on each side of the church.
Toward the end of the funeral service, everyone was invited to share memories about Marian. Various immediate family members and friends shared comments about how their lives were touched by her. I, too, wanted to express a few thoughts about her, and I started by focusing on those five windows that I was seeing for the first time.
Sanctuary window 1, "Behold, I Stand at the Door and Knock": Marian had heard Jesus' door knocks all throughout her life.
Sanctuary window 2, "The Good Shepherd": We had just prayed Psalm 23 during the service and this prayer was comforting to her.
Vestibule window, "Let the Little Children Come to Me": Marian had been a primary-grade teacher for 35 years, so she constantly welcomed little children around her.
Side window 1, "The Agony in the Garden": Her health deteriorating over the past months had been very difficult and afforded a real sharing in the suffering of Jesus.
Side window 2, "Mary Magdalene Encountering the Risen Christ": Although Mary Magdalene didn't recognize Jesus after he had arisen but thought he was the gardener instead, it was only when he said her name, "Mary!", that she realized it was Jesus (John 20:15-16). After a lifetime of faithfulness in marriage, devotedness to family, exuberance in elementary teaching, dedication to the church choir and Sunday school, and supportiveness to friends and family, I believe that Jesus offered Marian eternal life by calling her name, "Marian." And her response was similar to Mary Magdalene in recognizing Jesus and going to him.
Yes, I believe that this is how death works. The risen God calls your name. Your response takes you into the fullness of life, totally beyond anything we know or have here on earth. We who are left behind can't fathom how the deceased will be. We fixate on ourselves and on how much we'll miss the person. Eternal life isn't about that at all.
[Sr. Nancy Linenkugel is a Sylvania Franciscan sister and chair of the department of health services administration at Xavier University, Cincinnati.]