In the timeframe of history, and most surely of eternity, our lives are but a brief instant, a flicker of light in a boundless universe. Yet a divine spark dwells within us — the very essence of the God who transcends and redeems time — and thus our brief passage through life becomes eternally significant, made incalculable in value by Him who sanctifies time and transforms our passing journey into a priceless jewel.
We are, at our outset, but uncut stones, to be shaped and chiseled by Him, through the joys and hardships of life, and by those who on our pilgrimage touch us, guiding and shaping our lives, be it by parents, siblings, friends or foes, church and culture. Each of our lives is a story, and that story is written large by those who inhabit our lives and share our journey.
Today we mourn the death, and celebrate the life, of Joan Shepard. We are gathered in this house of worship as a testimony, not only to her life, but to our sure hope that this life from which she has passed is is not all there is, but rather a grand preparation for a far better, fuller life, where we no longer live by faith but at last by sight, in the presence of God. Our great loss is Joan’s gain — and we who share the hope of all who live and die in Christ know that our mourning is but for a time, as we will join in her joy and share her victory in the presence of God when our time of departure comes.
Yet we who are left behind, grieving our loss, will pause to remember her life as well, and the countless ways in which she touched us and left a great legacy in her wake. Joan was one of the Greatest Generation, born at the beginning of a century of great hardship and strife, who were scarred and hardened by its sufferings and horrors. Yet through that crucible there shone through a character and courage which emblemized a generation and inspired those who inherited the peace and prosperity they purchased for those who followed.
Such character and dignity was on full display in Joan’s life, shaped by her life’s journey. I recall the story of her father’s death — a time much like ours here today — a time of great mourning, as he passed from this life at a young age. He owned a shoe store in Burlington Iowa, their home town, and struggled as so many did through the painful years of the Great Depression. At his funeral, unbeknownst to his friends and family — and to their great surprise and joy — there came forward many who were there to honor him because of his great generosity, having supplied shoes at no cost to struggling farmers. and having paid for scholarships to college for many.
This spirit of generosity was present in full in Joan’s life as well. She was gracious and generous to a fault, giving freely of her time and money to whomsoever was in need. She was deeply involved in service, bringing food and hope to needy families through the FISH ministry up until the final days of her life. Late in life she entered intensive training for ministry in healing prayer, touching profoundly the lives of those deeply wounded by life’s cruelty or enslaved by the harsh darkness of Satan’s hand. She was never a consumer Christian, always deeply involved in life here at St. Mary’s, living her faith with her hands and feet, not merely in pious words and reverent detachment. We will never know, this side of Paradise, how many lives were touched and healed by the extraordinary generosity of her spirit and her faith.
We who were her children and grandchildren know well of this generosity of spirit, the joy of her smile, and the testimony of her faith. How well we remember her smiling face and wonderful sense of humor; how well we remember the warm, inviting graciousness and hospitality of her home, always bedecked with flowers and an abundance of wonderful food; how well we remember how she could engage a total stranger and in minutes put that person at ease as if they had been lifelong friends.
We remember too her zest for life; her feistiness; the adventuresome spirit with which she launched out on overseas travel with friends and family even well into her 80s; her sharp mind; her fierce independence and unwillingness to be a burden on anyone. God forbid you should try to pick up the tab at a restaurant: Joan was set to do battle to grab the check, and would be furious if you, by various forms of trickery, slipped it away from her.
But most of all we are grateful in remembering her deep faith — a faith now rewarded in the presence of the Lord she served faithfully so many years. She stands now before Him, in joy, in the company of her husband George who preceded her, in glory, without pain or sorrow. I suspect even now she is arguing with Jesus about who will pick up the tab — although I suspect it’s an argument she won’t win this time.
We will miss you, Joan, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for the blessing you have been to each of us in this life. May God give you peace and eternal rest, and draw you to Himself in His presence and glory. We long for the day when we shall see you again.