Ellen Howse -- Memorial Service

2nd Corinthians 5:1-10

Rev. Christopher Harbin, First Baptist Church—Huntersville, NC

02 March 2013

We gather at times like these for grief and celebration, joy and sorrow, for expressing our pain, our comfort, our sadness, and our joy. It is always to a mixed bag of emotions that we come to say our goodbyes to those we have known and loved. We cherish memories of shared experience, yearn for new experiences that can never again be, and grieve over the loss that death represents to each one of us.

We pause to remember and reflect upon the life of a loved one. Ellen was dear to many, yet to each she represented something different. Her impact on each life around her was individual, distinct, and personal. She was a wife, a mother, a sister, a friend, a companion, a colleague, a teacher, a partner in many differing ways. The grief each of us experiences is distinct, for in Ellenís passing, we have all lost something different, even as she gave something different to each one of us in her living.

We must all face different questions in moving forward, even if the question may sound the same. Where do we go from here? What do we do with the life and impact of Ellen Howse on each one of us?

The Apostle Paulís words in 2nd Corinthians help place some of those questions in a context of eternity:

1We know that our bodyóthe tent we live in here on earthówill be destroyed. But when that happens, God will have a house for us. It will not be a house made by human hands; instead, it will be a home in heaven that will last forever. 2But now we groan in this tent. We want God to give us our heavenly home, 3because it will clothe us so we will not be naked. 4While we live in this body, we have burdens, and we groan. We do not want to be naked, but we want to be clothed with our heavenly home. Then this body that dies will be fully covered with life. 5This is what God made us for, and he has given us the Spirit to be a guarantee for this new life.

6So we always have courage. We know that while we live in this body, we are away from the Lord. 7We live by what we believe, not by what we can see. 8So I say that we have courage. We really want to be away from this body and be at home with the Lord. 9Our only goal is to please God whether we live here or there, 10because we must all stand before Christ to be judged. Each of us will receive what we should getógood or badófor the things we did in the earthly body. (NCV)[1]

In these last weeks, the working of Ellenís body was destroyed by cancer. Her liver was no longer doing its job. Whether as a direct result of the cancer or its treatment, is immaterial, for we knew it was only a matter of time until her body would no longer be able to function to sustain her life. The cancer was taking Ellenís life, yet it could not take Ellen. She was more than the body lying in a bed.

She was mother and grandmother. She was lover and friend. She was a focal point for family. She was a mentor and teacher. While she was ill, yet she was a source of strength for others. While her body could only go so far, she knew that there was more to her and for her than the limitations of physical life in the body cancer was consuming.

Paul spoke of this body as little more than an earthly tent, a covering for who we really are. He referred to the body as clothing, a covering to make us presentable to others. He termed that tent a merely temporary shelter, not designed to last forever. Yet he spoke about our hope of another shelter, one designed to last the ages in Godís presence. This new shelter would be a covering with life itself, a home to last the ages.

Paul does not get bogged down in speculation about the physical realities of heaven, descriptions that would present heaven in earthly, material terms. Rather, he focuses here on a wholly other kind of reality. He speaks of life itself being our eternal clothing within the immediacy of Godís eternal presence.

As Ellen experienced, Paul says God has freely offered the Spirit, Godís very breath, as a down payment on that eternal reality of life before God. Many saw that down payment in Ellenís life. The nurses around her bedside testified to her gentle spirit, her kindness, her love, and her joy in life. As she experienced the presence of God in life here on earth, hers was also the hope of continuing in Godís presence hereafter in the eternal reality of life Paul mentions.

Good news for those who are not musicians: Paul says nothing about singing forever around Godís throne. He speaks rather of serving God, both on this and the other side of eternity. Ellen would be right at home, whether that means teaching younger ones, singing praises, or finding other ways to encourage those around her.

Paul addresses that life beyond as a continuation of this one. There is transformation. There is something new. There is a greater reality and immediacy. There is a more direct expression of life, but it lies in relationship to this one. It is about a transition to a new home in heaven.

Heaven is about being present with God. Heaven is about continuing in Godís presence, yet in a much more direct manner and experience. Ellen was ready for that. She was ready to leave the temporary shelter of her body to experience a fuller expression of life with God.

Her departure leaves behind holes in our existence. Here she will be missed. There will be no more gatherings with her here, yet her hope was set on meeting her again in that new home awaiting in the life to come. It was Ellenís desire that we would all join her in that experience of new life in heaven, at one and at home with God.

—©2013 ChrŪstopher B. Harbin

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1 The Everyday Bible: New Century Version (NCV). Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005.

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