My Grandmother, Wilma Esther (Richards) Bruns passed away on Sunday, January 3rd, 2021. Her Obituary can be found by clicking here. It is an honor to be able to preside and preach at her funeral this morning. My homily can be found below. Please join me in praying for the repose of her soul and the consolation of our family.
Readings for the Rite of Christian Burial of my Grandmother, Wilma Esther Bruns
First Reading: Wisdom 3:1-9
A reading from the book of Wisdom,
But the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace. For if before men, indeed, they be punished, yet is their hope full of immortality; chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself. As gold in the furnace, he proved them, and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself. In the time of their visitation they shall shine, and shall dart about as sparks through stubble; they shall judge nations and rule over peoples, and the LORD shall be their King forever. Those who trust in him shall understand truth, and the faithful shall abide with him in love: Because grace and mercy are with his holy ones, and his care is with the elect.
The Word of the Lord Thanks be to God
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 23:1-3, 4, 5, 6
R/. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. in verdant pastures he gives me repose; Beside restful waters he leads me, he refreshes my soul. He guides me in right paths for his name sake. R/.
Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side with your rod and your staff that give me courage. R/.
You spread the table before me in the sight of my foes; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. R/.
Only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life; And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come. R/.
Gospel: John 11:32-45
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to John
When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Sir, come and see.” And Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him.” But some of them said, “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?” So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay across it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the dead man’s sister, said to him, “Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus raised his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that you sent me.” And when he had said this, he cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth. So Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.” Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him.
The Gospel of the Lord Thanks be to God
Homily for the Rite of Christian Burial of my Grandmother, Wilma Esther Bruns
In the 31 verses prior to our Gospel this morning, Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha has fallen ill. So the two sisters send word to the Lord saying, “Master, the one you love is ill.” The message gets sent back and forth between Jesus and the sisters, and after a few days, Lazarus dies. Jesus, who had decided to stay in Jerusalem works his way to Bethany where he is greeted first by Martha and then as our Gospel began today, by Mary. Mary comes, she falls at the Lord’s feet and both she and Jesus weep. Mary for her brother who has been dead for four days and Jesus because he sees the pain that sin and death cause in the grief of his friends. Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God came into the world to destroy sin and death. He came to destroy death by dying himself on a tree in the most horrific way possible. And so in death, in the face of the agony, the pain, and suffering caused by the death of a loved one, Jesus weeps. He weeps because the time of fulfillment has not yet come. He weeps because the prison bars of death are closed, as his passion and resurrection have not yet come to pass. He weeps because he feels the loss and pain of losing a friend, of seeing his friends, his loved ones overcome with sorrow, overcome by grief.
My dear family, Jesus stands with us in our grief today at the passing of our Mom, our Grandmother, and he weeps. He weeps with us because he knows our hearts. He knows our pain, our loss. But today is different from that day when he met Mary on the road to Bethany. For today he has been resurrected. Today, he has conquered sin and death and purchased for us an eternity with the Trinity in Heaven forever. He the Way, the Truth, and the Life has made ready the Way, he has given us his truth in the words of the Holy Scriptures, and he has made his promise that we who remain faithful to Him will one day have eternal life. And so we gather today in the hope of that promise for our sister, Wilma.
That promise of eternal life – of union with God – of peace in Heaven was known by Grandma. Because it was instilled in her by her parents Arthur and Esther McFarland Richards and their family as a child. The daughter of a farming family, Grandma must have learned to love God in the midst of his creation. As she grew in the love of God, young Wilma Richards must have decided that she wanted to make that promise a reality. She wanted to receive the promise of Eternal Life, the promise of being baptized into the family of God. So on August 9th, 1932 the young 9 year-old Wilma Esther Richards was baptized at the United Methodist Church in Columbus. On that ninth day of August, 88 years ago, young Wilma Esther Richards died for the first time. As she was plunged into the watery depths of the Baptismal Font, she died to any former attachment to sin as the promise of an eternity with God was given to her. Her body became a temple, an eternal dwelling place of the Holy Spirit as she was claimed by God. As she became His beloved daughter. As she rose with Christ through the waters of the Jordan to the promise of Eternal Life.
And so as we began our prayer today, we reverenced her body one final time with that Baptismal water, that white garment of purity, which opened and deepened for her, that relationship with the God she had come to know, the God she loved. That relationship and promise by God made to Wilma at her baptism of eternal life was a two-way street and Grandma had to reflect that relationship in how she lived, how she worked, how she raised a family. Her promise to God in faith at her baptism became full of more little promises, more moments of grace, more moments to say yes to the Lord.
Grandma and Grandpa first met through a church affiliated organization called “Rural Youth” that they had attended together. They also went to the same highschool. Grandpa must have been quite the young Romeo in the time before telephones as he used to write Grandma letters during their courtship. Aunt Marlene shared with me that he wrote one inviting Grandma to the movies and how he couldn’t wait until that Saturday night!
Their love for one another grew as time went on and on May 14, 1942 the beautiful 19-year old Wilma Esther Richards and handsome 23-year old Harry Dale Bruns made another promise with God, and this time together, at the Barry Methodist Church Parsonage. A promise to have and to hold, a promise through the good and the bad, a promise to be faithful in sickness and in health until death they would part.
Each of us here knew the love that Grandpa and Grandma had for each other. We’re the product of it. We’re the product of their faithfulness in good times and in bad. We’re the descendants of their love, their union, their marriage. We are here because they were faithful to the promise they made to one another as their love bore fruit in the new lives of their children, Marlene and Larry. We are here because they cooperated with God as he wrote the story of their love, and thus the stories of their lives into one.
However, God wasn’t the only one doing the writing. Grandma did a lot of it too. Birthday cards, Anniversary cards, graduation cards and more. Grandma never missed an important milestone in the life of her family. And usually with them or without them Grandma would write and include a letter. She would write her cursive letters on halved sheets of white copy paper, seldom stationary, and usually both sides. When I turned 18 I began to save the many letters that Grandma would write to me. I wanted to have something to hold onto in the future when she was gone, something by which I could remember her. Her letters like her life were chock full of activities. Little tidbits of her day, what she ate, what she remembered from years past, what she and Grandpa had been up to. The contents of her letters varied, but every letter from Grandma was signed the same way, “love Grandpa and Grandma Bruns”
That love that Grandma and Grandpa shared was always evident in the way that Grandma cared for him. In fact she did so as much as she could until he passed away. In June of 2012, Grandma wrote “Grandpa and I had 6 month check up at the dentist today. He needs a tooth pulled. That is the 3rd one in a row at the back. No wonder he can’t chew meat!” In December of 2012 she wrote more of how she cared for Grandpa saying, “I’m sorry I haven’t written to you before this. I go to see Grandpa nearly everyday. Bring his clothes from home to wash. Then there is mail to take care of.” She commented on how the flu disrupted his birthday party from taking place and how Aunt Marlene and her “were real sick Thursday and Friday.” But “I will go eat lunch with Grandpa tomorrow and we will go to church at 1pm in the chapel there.” Grandma and Grandpa stayed true to their promise of life together. And especially to their promise of faith together. They went to Church together, joining Camp Point United Methodist Church on April 21st of 1946. They prayed together. They lived their lives together for God, the God who so dearly loved them, the God who welcomed them into eternal life.
On March 4th, 2013, Grandma mentioned that her eyes were starting to fail her and she saw a lot of red. But the doctor said not to worry too much about it. Grandma’s life, once so full of vivid color began to darken as her eye sight grew weak with macular degeneration. Yet she was not alone. As the words of our psalm said, “Even though I walk in the dark valley, I fear no evil; for you are at my side with your rod and your staff that give me courage.” Perhaps Grandma even prayed that God would help her eyesight, I know I did. Her penmanship which was normally quite straight began to slant and move across the pages of her letters. The daughter and wife of farmers, Grandma often wrote about the seasons and growing things. She wrote about the snow and ice in March and that “They like to plant potatoes, lettuce and radishes March 17th, but I’m afraid they won’t this year. Our seasons are so different anymore.” There is a beautiful prayer the priest prays in the preface of the dead at funeral Masses. “Indeed for your faithful Lord, life is changed, not ended.” Grandma’s season has changed. Her life has changed through her death. But it has not ended, because of her faith. Because of her love of the God who loved her and Grandpa so incredibly much.
Every letter that Grandma wrote me after Grandpa’s death always made reference to how proud she and Grandpa were to have his grandsons as his pallbearers. Grandma and Grandpa were always so proud of all of their grandchildren and she would often mention her many grandchildren in her letters, usually in regards to some activity they were a part of or a challenge they were facing, but always with how proud she was of them. She said, “One of Brenda and Casey’s twins, Landon talks all the time. He is 6 years old and smart.” “Ten year old Madison went to St. Louis with her soccer team on Saturday. They played in the morning…they won two games and lost one and got second place.
She referenced her teaching that she did at Church and said, “I taught lots of little kids the Bible and some older ones too.” Grandma was an active teacher in the Sunday school program here in Camp Point as she shared her faith with the next generation. A Grandmother’s faith is often instilled in her grandchildren. And after Grandpa passed, Grandma began to share her deep faith with me even more through her letters.
Death has a way of awakening in us a deeper sense of faith, a deeper sense of the reliance we have on God who is ultimately the one in control of our lives. Grandma would always say that she loved me in her letters, but it wasn’t until Grandpa died that she changed her signature to, “I love you and I pray for you everyday.” I have a feeling that Grandma prayed a lot more after Grandpa died, not only for her family, but as a way of staying connected to her spouse of nearly 71 years. She wrote, “I miss going to see Grandpa, but I am glad he could just sleep away and not lay and suffer.” She wrote of her prayer life, “I’ve been to the Methodist church across the corner here three times…There is a catholic Mass here in the chapel on Saturday. No excuse for not going to Church somewhere.” And she always, always asked for prayers for those in need in the family and community, she said, “Don’t forget to pray for this Bruns family, how healthy we have all been.”
Grandma’s health wasn’t always the best though. And she would sometimes write about the struggles of growing old. “Three weeks ago, I cleaned a spot off the carpet. When I raised up I was dizzy, fell over backward and skinned my elbows, hit the back of my head… Marlene and Joe came and helped me up.” Reading her struggles, and the pain of her aging was always hard for me, being hundreds of miles away at school and unable to do anything. But I always cherished those moments when I would stop by while in town to visit. Grandma would show me photos of the family, tell stories from her past, and always, always cry when it came time to say goodbye. Over the years, when I would call her cellphone or stop by to see her, I often had to remind her of who I was. She wrote, “My only troubles are I don’t remember very long. I am so amazed at the names and other things just pop in my head after a while.” At Grandma’s 96th birthday I was home here for a visit. Those of us who were there know what a good day it was for Grandma. When I got off the elevator, she was sitting in her wheelchair with Aunt Marlene at the Nurses station. I walked over, crouched down next to her chair to give her a hug and kiss, expecting to have to explain who I was. But she saw me coming and recognized me for the first time in years as she said, “Corey, what a surprise. I didn’t know that you would be here.”
Mary and Martha wanted our Lord to be there when Lazarus died. But he didn’t come, because he needed them to believe in who he was. He needed them to know that he was the Lord of both the living and the dead. He needed them to know that souls of the just are in the hand of God, and there no torment shall touch them. For they are at peace.
My dear family, today, Grandma is at peace. Today she with Grandpa, her brother Warren, her family are at peace now with the Lord and we give thanks even in the midst of our sorrow for their lives and their love. This pandemic prevented us from being with Grandma when she died, from being with her over these past 10 months. But she was not alone. She was never alone. For now as she who believed sees the glory of God, she rejoices with her Savior. Because Jesus was with her at her first death in baptism, and he was there with her, holding her in his hands in her death to eternal life.
And so today, Grandma, may you return to Him who formed you from the dust of the earth. May holy Mary, the angels, and all the saints come to meet you as you go forth from this life. May Christ who was crucified for you bring you freedom and peace. May Christ who died for you admit you into his garden of paradise. May Christ the true shepherd acknowledge you as one of his flock. May you see your redeemer face to face, and enjoy the vision of God for ever. Amen.