Nothing to Fear: A Homily & Eulogy for JoAnne Hansen
Almost three weeks ago, some of us gathered in this very room and held a worship service that we called “Keeping the Faith,” where we celebrated Jo’s life and shared with her what she means to us. This scripture we just read was the scripture we used that day. And on that day we looked squarely at what was coming, and despite the grief, and fear and sadness and incredulity at the thought of losing JoAnne, we faced it together so that we could tell her what she meant to us, so we could thank God for her life and let her know that we loved her. It was a lovely day.
Jo held onto those notes people wrote to her; and she held on to this scripture and asked that it be read when we gather for her funeral. And so we read it today.
It is said that those who don’t fear death are not afraid to live.
When a person is baptized – parents hand over their child to a minister, watching as the minister pours water over them and pronounces upon their new little person the death and resurrection of Christ.
When JoAnne Hansen was baptized – as her life was even beginning, spoken over her in the presence of witnesses was the declaration that she would one day die, and then the very visible action, through water, of giving her over to death, and then having her resurrected back again, risen to a new life in Christ.
Baptism says we have faced the worst there is, and now we have nothing to fear. Our life is in Christ Jesus. In the end when Jo faced death she did so with this confidence: I have faced the worst there is and I have nothing to fear.
It is said that those who don’t fear death are not afraid to live.
And Jo was not afraid to live. People remember her boisterous fun, her freedom with life. Her life revolved around the outdoors and church, camping and company of those she loved. We all have stories of her fun-loving spirit, and the way she made ordinary things special, how she treasured her time with friends and family, like tipping the canoe on the Rice River, every single year, at the same spot, “Joey, it’s coming up again…!” Ken would say.
Jo was very organized, it is rumored, and this hasn’t been proven but highly supported, that she could put 20 lbs in a 5 lb bag, and speaking of bags, she would wash out and reuse every baggy, refold and smooth out every piece of tin foil, never letting anything go to waste.
Jo’s dill pickles were famous, she sold them at the bazaar and gave them to Stephanie for Christmas every year, jokingly complaining, “I ask her what she wants for Christmas and all she says is, ‘A jar of your pickles, Grandma!’” She was one of the quilters at church, treasurer for the Presbyterian women, sidekick confidant to Jan behind the scenes, keeping a small church running smoothly.
JoAnne brought people together, she made everyone feel part of the group, often smoothing past disagreements with a wave of her hand and an “oh well...” Always one to get involved, but rarely one to get worked up; she made people feel loved and appreciated. Jo had a way of bringing out the best in people, seeing the best in people. She had a great sense of humor, and she loved helping people.
Jo was thoughtful and careful, like the way she collected quarters from every state for her grandchildren to put in the eagle shaped holders that Ken had made for them. And she was famous for her hugs, “Never enough hugs!” she would say.
Sincere and straightforward, Jo didn’t make you guess what she thought of something. I remember one of my first Sundays here I tried something different in worship that didn’t go so well, and the next week she said to me, with her bright smile, “That was just awful!”
JoAnne was energetic and constantly on the move. At home she never sat down, and, the kids would testify, it drove Dad crazy – “Would you just sit down?” he’d say, and she would sit for a second, and then get up to do something else. Jo was a doer. And she loved playing with the grandkids, brought out the board games and settled in. She was always up for anything.
As parents, Ken was the strong and stern rock, Jo was the nurturing and calm mother, though towards the end she got fiester with Ken and he turned more into a teddy bear. Through the different stages in their life, the ups and downs, the changes that life threw at them, they could depend on each other, they supported each other, and they balanced each other out and complimented each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
Jo was a good friend and had good friends. She nurtured relationships, sustained solid friendships, maintained connections to family even across distances, and cultivated rituals, traditions.
Great fun and deep commitment to one anther characterized her relationships with the 4 musketeers – Jo and her clubhouse people, Harriet, Ed and Russ- and you can just picture Jo and Russ as mall rats at the MOA where they got their exercise, sometimes Russ waiting outside the door while Jo paused the walk to pop into a store and shop for a minute, and the kiosk folks would greet her by name, “Good morning Jo!”
JoAnne Hansen kept the faith, the faith kept her. She kept the faith with us, and for us, living her life fully and joyfully. In her own way she kept the faith as an authentic human being, a unique child of God. One way Jo kept the faith for me was by the gracious way she accepted help. She was so good at loving others and she let herself be loved right back, which is a great and extraordinary gift we give to another. When people drove her to chemo, brought her meals, called her up, offered help – she was always truthful about needing it, she was always willing to accept the gift- and in that way, accepting the very giver himself or herself.
Most of us don’t get to see how our lives impacted others in our own lifetime, we may have glimpses now and then, people may share with us their gratitude and love, but for the most part, we don’t get to appreciate how we’ve made a difference in the world. Not so with JoAnne. We got to tell her. We got to thank her.
We were brave enough to do this for her because she was brave enough to live honestly with us what she was going through. And she was brave enough to live honestly because we were there with and for her, facing it all together.
This is how we keep the faith for one another in the hard times.
Most of us wont get to go like Jo did; she had time and peace to reconcile herself to what was coming, she had a long life full of love behind her and a beloved husband awaiting her, she kept her mind until the end and had family around her and a church that held her – in all respects, she died a good death. But death is never good, as long as it is in the world it steals and lies, it separates us from those we love and breaks down what we spend our lives building up, and it makes us think that in the end it always wins.
But it doesn’t. The hope that holds us is that this is not all there is, and death does not get the final word. God spoke the final word over us, over her, even as her life was beginning, as the first word and the last – the word that seals our fate and future – “You belong to me. Now live in boldness.”
Jo wasn’t perfect, none of us are. And her life wasn’t without pain and suffering, it wasn’t easy, no life is. But I got the sense that Jo was usually in on the secret; usually aware that life is a precious gift.
And JoAnne was very blessed to be able to say, I am already being poured out – I feel my life disappearing but never wasted, as a blessing to others, as a gift to be spent.
I have fought the good fight – I have loved deeply and laughed a lot and clung to those around me and helped others.
I have run the race, and sometimes it wasn’t easy, sometimes it was a real fight, sometimes it tested me beyond what I thought I could endure, but I have kept the faith. I have hung onto my God who was already hanging onto me and it sustained me to the end.
And now, now, there is already waiting for me God’s justice – where there is no more pain or sorrow, God’s eternity where I am whole. This gift is waiting for me! And for everyone else too – because what would it be if it were only for me? Waiting for us all is God’s peace and joy and justice – what have we to fear?
A couple of months before her death, Jo was leaving the sanctuary after a sermon that ended with these words:
We can’t do anything about death, which comes for us all. And with the very biggest barns and most clever safety measures, we cannot prevent suffering or protect ourselves from pain or loss.
But, nevertheless, we do not need to worry. Nevertheless, we are invited to live generously, freely, joyfully, rich toward God; we are invited to live without fear.
Because our life is a gift from God, God’s own treasure. It’s not up to us to protect ourselves, preserve ourselves or determine ourselves. We belong to God. God who made us and loves us and will not let us go. God who came and suffered death right alongside us, for us, so that we are not alone, and so that death would not get the last word after all.
Our treasure, our legacy, our true wealth, is our life, secure and made alive in Christ.
Our life is a gift of love meant to be used and shared, meant to be lived fully and fearlessly in this passing world, and one day forever in joy when God’s kingdom is all in all. Amen.
When that service was over I went to the back of the sanctuary and I watched Jo struggle painfully to stand, and make her way very slowly with her walker to the rear doors. When she reached me, she gave me one of her famous hugs, and she kissed me on the cheek, and leaned into my ear, and she whispered, “I’m on my way.” Then she looked right into my eyes and patted my arm and slowly left the sanctuary.
And she was on her way.
But we all are.
The difference is that Jo was close and could tell it was coming, and she was not afraid. Her life was a gift, poured out for others, used and shared, lived fearlessly and fully.
And in the day when God’s kingdom is all in all, she will know the joy of that fullness without end. We all will.
JoAnne Hansen: in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, your baptism is now complete. Amen.