12 February 2013

Ruth Caroline Terrass Hiller - Requiem

Yesterday, 10 February 2013, The Feast of the Transfiguration, we gathered to remember my mother, Ruth Caroline Terrass Hiller, at St. Paul Church in Oakland, California.  Here are a couple of photos, and a video of the Obituary and the Sermon that was preached on that day.

Rehearsing the Entrance Rite

The following videos are of the Obituary that was read, and the Sermon preached.  The sermon is in two separate files.

The Text of the Sermon follows:

“From Where will my Help Come“
Requiem Mass for Ruth Caroline Terrass Hiller
The Feast of the Transfiguration
10 October 2013

St. Paul Church, Oakland California

Wisdom 3:1-5, 9
Psalm 121
Revelation 7:9-17
St. John 10:11-16


The Ancient Question

From age to age men and women have always had the psalmist’s question before them, “From where will my help come?”  The question at the heart of Psalm 121 also lies at the heart of our living, and our continuing in life.  My mother requested this psalm, and I suspect that it was both her concern and life question as well.  As our world expands, as we know more and more about what we are and from whence we have come; as we see farther than our fathers and mothers saw, and as we descend into the deep parts of existence, we wonder all the more about what our purpose is, and who will help us to accomplish it.  And then there is the simple question of why we are here today – what is our purpose in these ceremonies and words.  Is it death that gathers us today or something more than that?  “From where will my help come?”

The author of the Book of Wisdom is wrestling with large themes.  What is it about death?  Is the end really the ancient understanding of Sheol, a dark place of the dead, or is there something better – something more.  Then he trots out a bunch of words in which we can indeed find some level of help: peace, hope, blessedness, worthiness, understanding, abiding in love.  Are these answers for us this afternoon, and more importantly, are they answers for us as we leave this place, going back into the detail of our lives?  “From where will my help come.” 

For my mother, each of these states was something for which she yearned.  In her final days she was earnestly seeking peace, and had a strong sense of hope.  Her sense of self was that she was truly blessed in her marriage to Carl, her husband whom she continued to grieve, and blessed in the presence of her children.  Her attachment to her family, especially her husband, shines in a text that she asked be read as a lesson.  It is so short that we did not include it as a reading, but I include it here as an insight into her soul.

So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, yet they seemed to him like a few days because of his love for her.” (Genesis 29:20)

She sought a worthiness of life from her religious life that provided for her an understanding of life itself.  In all of these things she abided with God in love.  They were her answers to the ancient question.

An On-going Curse.

Just below the surface in Wisdom’s hope and dialogue about what it means to be alive is the real question of death.  The author wrestles with big questions:  suffering, death, the torments of life, and destruction.  This makes a great deal of sense since the book probably comes to us out of the experience of the Jewish Diaspora, the questions and musings of a people who had left the land of promise, learning to live in a new place, with different ideas.  “From where will my help come?”

Our time changes so quickly and so completely.  When I look at what has been accomplished during the span of my mother’s life I am stunned by all of the change.  For many such change is a joy and a positive aspect about life.  For others change is death in disguise, as civilization hurtles toward an unknown destination.  Think about your attitudes about life.  If you are young then all is possible.  As you age those possibilities begin to diminish, and death becomes more and more visible.

Our age cannot fathom death, and seeks actively to avoid it.  In dealing with the lovely people at the Funeral Home and the Cemetery, I began to be aware of all the exquisite means that were taken to have me avoid death.  It is not only in circumstances such as this, with the death of our mother, that we see death lurking, but also in other matters of life.  Have you ever lost a job or been threatened with its loss? – death.  Have you lost your home or value in your investments? – death.  Have your career goals or life goals been diverted or lost? – death.  Has a look in the mirror reminded you that all is not suppleness and beauty? – death.  Our culture’s answer to this question has been one of denial.  “From where will my help come?”

Resting Assured

The Wednesday before she died, I had lunch with my mother.  As her world continued to implode around her, I sought to find points of interest that would spark a conversation with her.  It was a question about the death of her parents that brought both tears and light to her eyes.  She remembered them in faith.  She delighted in the ordinary things that they did and brought to her life.  She saw Christ in them and hope in them.  And then she wept – taking in her loss, but still having hope. 

I love the question that the Seer, the Divine, is asked by the Elder in Revelation, “Who are these?”  I also like the passage from Hebrews 12:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us* and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.

Both of these viewpoints have an awareness of death that moves beyond what our culture and time would have us believe.  It is as the words of the Requiem sharply state, “In the midst of life we are in death” which is followed by the question, “of whom may we seek succor?”  “From where will my help come?” In Hebrews the help comes from the example of the witnesses that so thickly surround us – both dead and living.  We are in a great community that has experienced both death and life.  We are in a community of hope.  What we do here today centers our hope on the Jesus who leads us on and feeds us with life.  It also centers on this community – those who have gathered here, and those who gathered with us in heart and mind to stare down death and to accept the life that is offered to us.

The Gospel for today speaks of a Jesus who knows us.  We struggle, at times, to know ourselves, and to know those about us.  The image of hope here is that there is one who knows us completely, and accepts us completely.  This is a hope that is not a reaction to death alone but to the business of living as well.  Perhaps it is an answer to the question, “From where is my help to come?”

Sometime on the cusp of Sunday and Monday, Ruth awoke, and turned on a light.  It was then that she reached out to continue her life.  She arose, she collapsed onto her knees, and in a posture of prayer she died.  “From where is my help to come?”  In this she serves as an example of how to always be not only accepting of life, but also reaching out for it.  It is also an example of accepting death, rest, and peace. 

In our meal, this afternoon, both the one at the altar, and the one that follows in the  undercroft, let us accept that we are known of God, and that God comes to us in ordinary things, and events, to be our help, our grace, our life.  And then, like Ruth, let us turn on a light – a light for others to see and with which we can see others in their need.  “From where will my help come?”