The Promise of Sunday: In Praise of Jesus and Grandma Hayes

April 10, 2019 – John 20:1,11-18 – Keystone United Methodist Church, Kansas City, MO

I had the honor of preaching these woefully inadequate words at my grandmother’s funeral last Wednesday morning. May she rest in peace and rise in glory. Alleluia! Alleluia! 

Marjorie Helen Hayes, 1929-2019 

——

After Grandma’s death, I posted a picture on Facebook of her with Leslie, Erika, and me. Of all the comments that began to appear beneath it, I was struck most by those from folks who noted what special memories they knew we had created with her.

They were not wrong. All of her grandchildren have special memories of her. Mark, Leslie, Ashley, Erika, Ana, Michael, Greg, and I will always treasure those memories, as will her children, Mike, Jane, and Steve, and everyone who knew her. 

Pictures, like the one I posted, or the three Greg posted, or any others you may see, are merely windows into brief moments in our lives with Grandma Hayes. They each offer but one glimpse of the countless memories we made together. 

So it is with any eulogy or remembrance or funeral sermon. You cannot fit in the space of minutes the memories that took a lifetime to create. We are blessed to have those memories, and thankfully we have our whole lives to keep sharing them with one another. 

I bet every person in this room has a different memory of Marjorie to share. When I started listing my memories of grandma I thought about playing table games like Memory, Uno, and University of Kansas Monopoly. 

Walking to the Red Bridge Baskin Robins late on summer evenings also came to mind. As did watching college basketball, listening to her clap her hands and cheer at a decibel only a golden retriever could hear. “Go-go-go-go-go!” 

I also thought of her taking a cookie sheet out of the oven with her bare hands and drinking tea at a temperature scientists once thought impossible to reach this far from the sun. 

Memories of grandma are a powerful thing. 

This week while thinking of grandma, the phrase “Okey dokey, Doc” kept ringing in my ear, and I began to refer to wearing only socks while at home as going around in my “stocking feet.” Yesterday, before I left the house, I reached for my “dark glasses” instead of my sunglasses. Before I went to bed, a midnight snack of cinnamon apples sounded good. If grandma were here, I thought, she’d let me eat them in bed.

Finally, I thought about making buttermilk pancakes from scratch and serving the homemade syrup hot on the side. I bet hearing the words “bran muffin” could take any of her grandchildren back to a Saturday morning at Grandma Hayes’ house. 

When I imagine such a morning, it is always spring time; the windows are open, the fans are spinning. There is a beautiful flower garden in the back yard, just this side of the creek. She is getting ready to put “beer can chicken” on the grill, the thought of which is especially delightful because it is accompanied by the irreplaceable image of her actually having to approach the cashier at Sun Fresh with beer in hand.

Her Camry is in the driveway. The garage door was left open because she might use the car again later. Even though she walked four miles this morning between the hours of 5:00 and 6:00 a.m., she has already mentioned something about walking around the block before dinner. The Royals are playing, so the TV is on, but it’s muted and the commentary is provided by the radio blaring in the kitchen. As I watch, I am eating chocolate chip cookies from the freezer. 

Later in the evening, she calls her neighbor across the creek to let her know that the back porch light is still on. She also checks on Josephine next door because it’s starting to get hot, and Josephine doesn’t like to use her air conditioning. Finally, she calls Hatsy to ask if she saw a certain comic strip in the paper. Not to worry. She clipped it out for her. 

As she sits down to plan her Sunday School lesson, which no-doubt will run five minutes over and include some sort of homework assignment, she microwaves another mug of tea, using the same bag from earlier. 

The next morning, Sunday morning, we end up right here. Grandma is sitting in the balcony like she always does. I am sitting next to her. For Grandma, this is the best day of the week. She looks forward to greeting the fifth and sixth graders in her class, teaching them about the Bible, and sharing the love of God with them. 

She also looks forward to seeing her church family and to contributing to the life of this community. The worship service fills her soul for the week ahead. Some people used to joke that she sat in the balcony so she could keep track of attendance, but I think it was actually because that was the least conspicuous place to sneak in five minutes late. 

As we sing the closing hymn and the pastor raises a hand for the benediction, I feel a sense of sadness. My weekend with grandma is coming to an end. Soon, my parents will take me home. (I bet you remember what it’s like to go from grandma’s house back to your house.)

For this reason I, for a long time, associated Sundays with sadness and apathy. You know that Sunday feeling, don’t you? “Uh, I’ve got to go back to work tomorrow.” Sunday is the day when the realities of life slowly return to us. Sunday is the end. The end of the weekend, the end of time with grandma, the end of freedom from the obligations of work and school. At least, that’s what I used to think, but then I realized what Grandma had been teaching me all along. Sunday is just the beginning. 

Early in the morning on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been rolled away…

That was only the beginning. 

Grandma knew the Easter story and she lived it every day of her life. To say that grandma’s faith was important to her would be an understatement. Her faith gave everything else in her life a sense of order. 

She was the first person ever to talk to me about Jesus like it was normal to talk about Jesus. The way she lived her life, as someone who loved others unconditionally, was a testament to her relationship with him. 

Grandma once told me that during the hardest times of her life, when she, like Mary Magdalene, stood weeping and alone outside of the tomb, “Jesus found me like a friend, took me by the hand, and never let me go.”

That sure puts things into perspective. There are people in this world—Christians even—who will go on and on about how they found Jesus. And they’ll ask you if you’ve found him yet, too. But that’s not quite right. Grandma knew the truth: you don’t have to find Jesus, because Jesus has already found you. 

That doesn’t mean life is a piece of cake. There will be hard times for all of us, no exceptions. Times when you think God has abandoned you, when it feels like Good Friday every day. But then one day you’ll look up and recognize that he’s been with you all along.

That’s called Sunday. 

Her whole life, Grandma was teaching me—and you—the promise of Sunday. You can find it here, in the house of God, anytime you come, just like Grandma did. It’s Sunday here all the time. Not because it feels good to be here; not because you have good memories here; not even because Marjorie was here. It’s not Sunday because the stained glass is so pretty or because the organ sounds so impressive. No, it’s Sunday here because this is where you come to meet Jesus.

To this altar Marjorie came every Sunday to receive the body and blood of Jesus from whom she found the deep and abiding love necessary to keep on going. You might not have realized it when you came in, but today is Sunday. Today is Sunday because Jesus is alive, and because Jesus is alive, Marjorie lives with him. If you ever have trouble believing that, just remember how strongly she did. 

Today, in this place, our lives begin again, renewed by the promise of the one who conquers death. Marjorie may no longer sit in this balcony, but she will always look down from the eternal balcony, celebrating with us when we rejoice, encouraging us when we struggle, supporting us when we are weak, comforting us when we hurt, but most importantly, she will continue loving us—all of us—more than we could ever ask or imagine. 

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