A Celebration of the Life of Marilyn Croneberger
Christ Church, Reading PA
A sermon preached by The Rev. Canon Anne E. Kitch
January 4, 2014
There is no getting around the fact that today is difficult. We gather today to celebrate life—in particular the life of Marilyn Cronberger. There is indeed much to celebrate. But it would be wrong, and a kind of a lie, not to acknowledge that this celebration takes place in the midst of grief.
The landscape of grief is somewhat like the desert (or a winter blizzard). When the wind blows, the sands shift and the terrain changes. It can look and feel different from day to day, or even hour to hour. Under such circumstances, it is easy to lose our way. No person’s grief is the same as another’s. And not only is grief different for each person, it’s changing topography can be unfathomable for any individual.
Regardless of how we approach grief—whether we try to circumnavigate it, and perhaps some find this necessary and successful; or face it head on, bowing into the gale forces and forging ahead; or wander in the midst of it, opening ourselves to both its ravages and light caresses—neither it nor the power it works on us can be completely avoided. We are changed by grief. And what most of us find so difficult about change is the fear of loss.
But what is true about a life in Christ is that we know that we do not travel alone…ever. Even when it comes to grief and sorrow and pain, God has been there before us. So we do not travel without hope, and we do not travel without love. Clearly, Marilyn traveled with love.
Forty-‐eight years ago, in the Church of the Good Shepherd in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Marilyn and Jack pledged their love to one another. They promised, that forsaking all others, they would choose to be faithful to one another. And so they have, making loving choices over and over again. In the current marriage rite in the Episcopal Church, these words are prayed over the newly married couple:
Make their life together a sign of Christ’s love to this sinful and broken world, that unity may overcome estrangement, forgiveness heal guilt, and joy conquer despair. (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 429)
These words were not yet in use when Marilyn and Jack were married, but Marilyn and Jack had such a marriage. The love they shared with each other did not remain a private thing. Rather it radiated, so that their life together became a sign of Christ’s love. Their love added love to the world. Look around this church today and see the evidence of their love. Look how it has multiplied.
You do not need to be long in the presence of any part of Jack and Marilyn’s family to know this love. Together they raised five children who are kind hearted, who care for others and look to make the world a better place, who love their parents, are willing to struggle with difficulty, and who laugh well. In turn, Amber, Judy, Rebecca, Tim and Jen, along with their partners and spouses and children, have chosen to add to the good in the world.
Marilyn’s love was evident in her inspired leadership of Cursillo in the Diocese of Bethlehem and the Diocese of Newark. It was apparent in her commitment to justice by founding a PFLAG chapter. It was obvious in the hospitality she loved to lavish so beautifully on friend and stranger alike, and in her ability to welcome others. Her children’s friends still speak of that welcome and even the friends of her grandchildren were not excluded from her exuberant embrace in recent years.
The gifts of love and faithfulness that Marilyn nourished year after year were so great that even when adversity hit full force she continued to build on her legacy of service to God and others. The welcome that is part of Marilyn’s legacy is surely a reflection of the love of Christ. Jesus promises to welcome anyone who comes to him and Jesus promises us that nothing is lost, “Anyone who comes to me, I will never drive away,” proclaims the Savior of the world, and it is God’s will “that I should lose nothing of all that God has given me.” (John 6:37-‐40)
This is the promise: that nothing will be lost. There is no place we can be, where Christ is not. Nothing is lost.
Clearly the love Marilyn had for the world, for Jack, for her children and grandchildren, has not been lost. But it is more than that. In God’s economy, her voice has not been lost, her soul has not been lost, her laughter has not been lost. “I shall lose nothing of all that God has given me,” promises Jesus, “I will raise them up on the last day.” This is the promise we hold on to now as we celebrate the life of Marilyn—that she is already partaking in the resurrected life of Jesus. We can imagine her not just being at the banquet table in the heavenly court, but hosting the event.
And this is also the promise that we grasp for ourselves: that we too are God’s beloved. Our lives, our voices, our laughter, our struggles and tears, our grief and our joy, are all precious to God. We too share in the promise of the resurrected life in Christ. There is a place for each of us at the banquet table—and Marilyn is there already, waiting to welcome us.