This little parish is a close community, and in the days after we heard that Janet had died, nearly everybody I spoke with had a memory to share, as people struggled to make sense of the loss.
Number 1 on the list, of course, was Janet in that beautiful blue dress, dancing the night away to Elvis tunes at her 75thbirthday party.
But after that, each one also had a special personal memory—and in every case, it was a story about an act of kindness or some gift she had given them.
I have my own story to tell. I came across a card from Janet last week, with a little note that said, “I picked this gift up in Mexico and thought you might like it.”
The gift in question was a small cross I’ve had hanging on the wall in my office, along with several others, and
I can tell you that hers is the brightest, most colorful and cheerful cross of all.
Which might seem sort of contradictory, but to me, it really says something about Janet as we knew her here at Good Shepherd.
The cross is, above all, the primary symbol of our Christian faith. Colorful or not, it was an instrument of death—but we also see it as a symbol of resurrection.
There’s no body on the cross Janet gave me. It’s an empty cross, and that emptiness is a sign to us that death will not prevail.
The empty cross insists instead that life is the thing that will endure, ahe body that suffered has been released from all pain.
As we heard Jesus say in the reading from John’s Gospel:
“I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26 NRSV)
This belief lies at the heart of our Christian faith.
Janet’s cross is decorated with a lovely colorful design. It’s a piece of art that speaks in a small way of the enormous beauty of this life, even in the face of its pain.
Janet had cancer for a long time—for the whole time I knew her—and yet we never thought of her as a person who was showing us all how to live.
But she knew that eventually she was going to die—she took care of so many of the details of planning her funeral, just so that others wouldn’t have to.
Janet looked death in the face for a long time, but through it all she was determined to live.
She knew that life was a gift—a sacred gift—and that our task here on earth was to make the most of it. And her kindness and generosity was a big part of that.
Now I don’t mean to say that Janet was never down. She certainly went through some very hard times.
Her friends here at Good Shepherd walked with her through some ups and downs in her life.
I remember once when she had just received some especially bad news from her doctors. She was upset about it, and she sat in my office and talked about it for quite a while.
And when she was finished, she shrugged, and said—with determination—“It’ll be all right. It’ll be all right.” And then she got up, and she kept going.
We give thanks for our life in Christ today, and we give special thanks for the life of Janet Smith—for the gift of life she was given, and made the most of.
For the gift her life was to us: A witness to faith. A model of kindness and generosity.
An example, bottom line, of how to live life to the fullest and have a good time doing it.
Honestly—maybe I’m just not quite the right generation—but I never would have guessed that an Elvis party would be so much fun. But Janet made it so.
I also found another card from Janet last week, a Christmas card with a picture of the magi holding up their gifts for the Christ child, pointing to that bright star hovering over Bethlehem.
It came with another small gift, and it had a very short and simple message.
It said, “Enjoy!” And then it was signed, “Janet Smith.”
I did. I will. And I hope you do, too, dear Janet.
We pray that your new life in God is everything you hoped it would be, and more. And we pray you are at peace.
Rest in God, Janet. And … enjoy!