Miepje DeVryer Memorial Eucharist - July 26, 2014
St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church – Wilmette, Illinois
“We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing.”
Soon after her doctors diagnosed Miepje with a brain tumor in February, Pieter came to Tom Alm, our organist-choirmaster, and to me, with an idea. St. Augustine’s has been the DeVryers’ faith community for more than 50 years, and music has been important to Pieter and Miepje for the whole of that time and before. Pieter asked Tom and me if we might have a concert. It would, he imagined, be a celebration of ministries at St. Augustine’s, with glorious music from our organ, which the DeVryers helped to restore some years ago, and with offerings from gifted musicians of this parish…who bless us again with their offerings today. And it would be something that Miepje could enjoy while she was still living.
Pieter’s idea quickly took shape, and became reality right here on June 1st. We shared together in beautiful music, a gathering of friends, a beautiful reception afterwards, with champagne.
Pieter wasn’t sure how long Miepje would be able to stay that day, so we sang her favorite hymn first – Hymn 433. It’s a Dutch tune, made popular when it was sung by a touring choir at the turn of the century. It was Miepje’s favorite hymn, so we sang it first that day…and we sang it first today, as well. “We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing,” we sang.
And that’s what we are doing here, today, as we come together in prayer and song and remembrance, nourished by the sacraments. We gather together to give thanks for the life of Miepje DeVryer. We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing – on Miepje, on her family, on her friends, on her community.
Miepje lived fully, externally, out in the world. She played tennis until and beyond her diagnosis, she and Pieter exercised at the Fitness Center, she served here as an usher welcoming people to worship, she continued offering services as a psychiatrist until the week before doctors discovered her brain tumor. She lived externally as a person – remembering what was going on in other people’s lives, asking about their families, their work, their well-being, in ways that showed she cared deeply about their response.
The evidence of how Miepje lived can be witnessed in how she died. People encircled Miepje and Pieter in these past weeks, planting flowers on the terrace outside their home, visiting them at the Midwest Care Pavilion where Miepje spent her last days, knitting prayer shawls for her, bringing flowers from their gardens to brighten her room, bringing meals for Pieter.
And now, we gather. We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing.
The first passage of scripture that the family chose for today’s service was the first reading we heard read by Johanna, from the Book of Lamentations. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; God’s mercies never come to an end,” it begins.
The author’s use of these words is almost ironic. They are written after Jerusalem has been sacked; the Temple where God’s people believe that God dwells in earthly habitation, destroyed; the people who worshiped there, sent into exile in Babylon. Things have gotten worse than people could have imagined. Remember: the book is called Lamentations.
And yet, this is what comes from the author of that text: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, God’s mercies never come to an end…”. More than some kind of a naïvete, these words insist on God’s provision in the midst of what must seem a hopeless situation.
What is more, the Hebrew word hesed, which we translate here as steadfast love, means something deeper than that. Those of you here who speak different languages will, I trust, understand the notion of a word being lost in translation. The word hesed is based on the Hebrew root, which means a mother’s love for her children.
On this day, as we mourn the loss of a brilliant and generous woman, a mother and a grandmother, there is something defiantly hopeful about invoking those words from Lamentations: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases…”
The day of the concert here at St. Augustine’s, we began with a prayer and then with some words from Pieter. He spoke of his love for the church and he spoke of his love for Miepje, about their shared love of music. He spoke honestly about her illness, and of how they walked this journey together. It was a way for both Pieter and Miepje to welcome us all into the midst of a lovely and painful and honest space in their lives. And the offerings of people’s gifts, so many of you here again today – your gifts: your presence here among us, your beautiful music, the food you brought to share in fellowship on that day – it was a way for us all to echo those words of defiant hope written so far away in time and space: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; God’s mercies never come to an end…”
And so, we gather. We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing – on Miepje, may she rest…on this family…on this community of faith. In the midst of this deep sadness, trusting that the words of Lamentations will again be true: that the steadfast love of the Lord will never cease, trusting that God’s mercies will never come to an end.
We gather together, here today, to ask the Lord’s blessing.