A homily preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church and the larger community of Laurens, SC, at the Burial Office in honor of the life of Mary Cochran Herbert (September 30, 1924-April 3, 2018) at Epiphany Episcopal Church, Sunday afternoon, April 8, 2018
(Note: In mortal life, death is inevitable; so, too, grief. Thus, the honoring of a life at the time of death is one of the greatest privileges, no, the greatest privilege and labor of pastoral ministry.)
I arrived late to the festival of life, the feast of life that is Mary. In December 2015, I came amongst you, the Epiphany congregation, as priest-in-charge and into the Laurens community at large. Thus, I was here, two years ago, come August, when, in this sacred space, we held a memorial service for Mary’s beloved husband and life-force, Carrington, Sr. Still, it’s only been a bit more than two years that I’ve been a privileged participant in the festival, the feast of life that is Mary. Yet, though brief my time with Mary, how festive the party and how rich the banquet!
Christianity is an incarnational religion. From the Latin, in carne, “in flesh”, Christianity proclaims that God took human form, human life, dwelling in time and space as a particular person in a particular place, Jesus of Nazareth. Through the lens of that understanding, I always find it to be a grand thing whene’er I meet and behold someone who inhabits her life’s story in an authentic way; being a living, breathing anthology of the truths she has gathered, embodied in her particular time and place. Mary, for me, was…is such a person.
Mary lived long enough, explored widely enough, felt deeply enough, thought highly enough, especially of those around her so to want to know them well, and reflected faithfully enough about life so to embrace the promises and the costs, the rewards and the risks of her life – principally, of love and of loss; the latter, always the surest inevitability of every relationship.
And as she aged, and, again, in her latter days as I have been honored to come to know her, though long after a stroke had robbed her of the power of much speech, I beheld her wondrous beauty in the twinkle in her eyes that bore the spark of life’s joys and the shadows of its pains and in her smile that, symbolically, like art, revealed the power of hope that perseveres even, especially, as the hymn says, “when the woes of life o’ertake me”(1) and in her frequent voicing of those two tremendous, marvelous, sacred words, “Thank you”, revealing that within her breast beat the heart of holy gratitude.
In all this, Mary, equally as Carrington, Sr., a life-force, was perfect. Not in the adjectival sense, for, indeed, who is? Yet surely in the verbal sense of one who in her living sought to fulfill, to perfect the purpose of her being. Truly, the essential life’s work for each of us.
Though brief my time with Mary, I believe she did precisely that. Therefore, among all the folk I know Mary lived fully and loved deeply, garnering the admiration and affection of folk of good will, reverencing the creation and, thus, revering her Creator, working and playing with exultant enthusiasm, and enriching the lives of all around her so that they…we may breathe easier, believing in a better world because of her.
In all of this, Mary fulfilled the purpose of her birth and, thus, hath departed in peace.
Mary, requiescat in pace.
(1) From the hymn, In the cross of Christ I glory. Words by John Bowring (1792-1872). The full verse: When the woes of life o’ertake me, hopes deceive and fears annoy, never shall the cross forsake me, lo, it glows with peace and joy.