Fiona Wilcher Funeral – November 7, 2014
St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church – Wilmette, Illinois
We have a new ministry, begun here at St. Augustine’s in recent months. Our prayer shawl guild draws people together a couple of times a month. They share in conversation and fellowship. They pray together, and they knit lovely prayer shawls, which we bless and then take, often to people who are sick and unable to be here at church with us. Several members of that guild have been friends of Steve and Fiona and Katie for many years. When I met Fiona for the first time in September, I took her one of the very first of those shawls.
Fiona was straightforward in our conversation that day at Whitehall about what these past five years had been in her life, in the life of her family. She spoke with a scientist’s expertise about her diagnosis, and honestly about prospects of the future. And the whole time, as we talked about her family and her hope for you, about chemotherapy and clinical trials, about pain and relief from pain, she had that prayer shawl wrapped around her. As she talked, she patted it into place, straightened out the fringes at the ends, tucked it around herself more tightly.
Three strands from the passages of scripture we’ve heard read this afternoon have knit themselves together in my mind over these past days. They have wrapped themselves around my prayer for Fiona’s rest and release, for Steve and Katie’s comfort.
From the first reading, in the book of Ecclesiastes: “to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.” From Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: “when this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality.” And from John’s gospel: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
These past years of Fiona’s life, and of the life you have shared with her, have been a particular season. And from what you have told me, it’s a season marked by too much pain, by loss. But that has not been the entirety of it all – because there have also been times of grace and joy, times of sharing, within this season. And as painful as these past five years have been, they have been a season – they are not the entirety of Fiona’s life. She leaves a legacy, a life lived fully and whole. Those many seasons of her lifetime – as an engineer living in Siberia under communist rule, as a competitive sailor giving all she had to the race, as a very soon-to-be mother determined to find exactly the right time to wake her sleeping husband and go to the hospital delivery room, as an established professional risking a new path and profession, as a mother newly diagnosed with cancer whose first move was seeking to prepare her teenage daughter for this most recent season…all of those and more, the stories you have told and will tell…those are the seasons that comprised who Fiona is and was.
Now she passes from what this season has been and on into the next. As Paul writes to the church at Corinth, this perishable body puts on imperishability, this mortal body puts on immortality. And now we pass from what we can see and hear and touch with our hands to having to trust instead in a promise yet to be fulfilled – that indeed death will be swallowed up.
But in the meantime…the pain and the loss constitute a season of their own, one marked, honestly, by troubled hearts.
Jesus says some seemingly impossible words in today’s Gospel: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” I’m not sure how to have hearts that are not troubled in this moment – Steve, Katie…you who are Fiona’s family, you who are Fiona’s friends.
Just after he speaks that impossibility, though, Jesus says this: “Believe in God, believe also in me.” Often we understand “belief” as something we do with our brains, as some kind of intellectual comprehension. And I don’t know quite what to do with that notion in this moment, when so much is incomprehensible. But what if, instead, we consider belief as where we entrust our hearts?
Do not let your hearts be troubled, but entrust them to God.
Trust that Fiona has gone ahead, that she has been preparing you for a long time. Trust that this season, for all that it has been and all it is now, is a season – not our entirety. Trust that, indeed, there is a time to every purpose under heaven. Trust that Fiona now leaves this perishable body to put on imperishability, leaves her mortal body to put on immortality. Trust that there will be a time when your hearts are not so troubled.
And in the meantime, look around at the people who come together here today. Let this gathering of love, this church, knit itself together for you as a source of warmth and care. Be enfolded by it. Be enfolded by us, just as Fiona was that day by a prayer shawl knit by a friend, all wrapped and tucked around her.