Sister Elizabeth Clare CHN or Sister Liz
I hope you won’t mind, but I want a quick word with Liz first, before I come to you.
Three wonderful biblical readings, Liz, but I guess when they chose the Isaiah passage, they were thinking of the wrong person.*
‘The spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the broken hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners.’
They thought, I expect, when they chose that passage for your funeral, that it was about Christ. After all, Luke famously puts those words into Jesus’ mouth when he is preaching in the synagogue at Nazareth. Well, they are about Jesus, Liz, but they are also about you. It would never have occurred to you to say so, so I’m saying it instead. It just happens to be true. The spirit of the Lord was upon you, and you brought good news to the oppressed and the vulnerable and the broken hearted, and you gave so many people release from what was imprisoning them, including sometimes the bars of narrow, confining religion.
And I would have chosen some other readings for you, too, including three about Moses, each just one verse long. I would have chosen Exodus 33.11, where it says,
‘The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend’;
and Exodus 32.11, where it says, if we translate the Hebrew literally and allow its poetry to retain its shock and its beauty,
‘Moses soothed the face of God.’
And then I would have included Exodus 34.29,
‘Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.’
(The King James Bible has, he ‘wist’ not that it shone, and I have a story about that, a story I must have told Liz, so now it’s for you. I knew a student at Girton College in Cambridge back in the 60s, whose father, a well-known Methodist minister, came to preach in the college chapel, and used that Exodus 34.29 as his text. As he and his daughter were walking down one of the corridors after the service, another student came towards them with a very Christian smile on her face. After they were safely out of ear-shot he turned to his daughter and whispered, ‘I think she wist.’)
I had better stick with you now. Turning Exodus 33.11 around, I would say Liz used to talk to God face to face as one talks to a friend. Liz was so at ease with her God. She had got so deep inside his forgiveness and his love, heard so much of his laughter. And she knew God’s pain, also. That’s why she soothed his face. In Exodus Moses is trying to soothe God’s rage, turn him from his fierce anger against his people. But Liz’s God was different. He needed her to wipe his tears. And so she did. And you could see from Liz’s face that she was used to keeping God company. Her face shone also, but she never blinded others with the glare, as Moses’ face did, so that story goes. And, of course, she never wist that it shone. She never wist. She never wist how much she gave to us. (She would have been a right pain, if she had!)
And, dare I say it, Liz (excuse me, just going back to her for a moment), I think I would have extended the Gospel into the passage from John 12 where Mary of Bethany washes and anoints Jesus’ feet, and then further still into the famous story in John 13 of Jesus washing the feet of his friends at their last meal together before his arrest. (I suppose the Gospel would have been a bit long.)
Because, you see, Martha declares Jesus Messiah and the Son of God, but it is her sister Mary who shows Jesus what that means. Mary is, in John, Jesus’ teacher. She shows Jesus that if he is to be Messiah, the Son of God, the Word who was in the beginning with God, the Word who is God, then he must wash feet. And so he does, and says we should do the same.
And I think of Liz showing God how to be God. I see Liz washing God’s feet, putting the idea in his head, if that makes any sense – on the surface it is complete nonsense, of course, but Liz would have caught the truth of it, even if she would not have wanted to see herself as God’s teacher. She never wist.
I kept the letters Liz sent me over the years, and I will finish with a few nuggets from them, words that are more precious than rubies.
‘God said to me when he had my tiny feet in his, “It’s not help I want, but company.” God’s actually wanting one’s company makes me curl up in surprise and joy.’
‘I read Tauler, German, fifteenth century, and his instructions were better than his sermons. In them he talks about “The abyss of the humility of God”, so bully for him!’
‘I do remember one day I said to God, “Am I making you into the kind of God I want you to be? Is this my dream?” And God said, “Dream on. I will exceed all your dreams.”’ I have said this to people and they looked very disapproving. Somewhere they want a God “as grim as a goose” (mother’s phrase) to quell the natives!’
When a friend of hers died: ‘I hope she will find God Anglican enough, but I reckon God will sit her down, give her a huge ice cream, and give her permission to enjoy herself, and a few dance steps – minuet to start with I think; easy does it!’
And talking of herself: ‘There are worse vocations than being a clown.’
‘I suggested to one of the sisters we said “Whoopee!” instead of Alleluia and she didn’t fall for it!’
Speaking of the Community: ‘It’s so good to be loved and trusted and feel I don’t have to watch my step but can be open and am accepted.’
Concerning Winnie the Pooh: ‘After serious thought he said the most glorious moment for him was anticipating honey, and actually eating it never quite matched those heights . . . Then I had a think and thought of course the vision of God and heaven will be the perfectly lasting climax that no anticipation will dwarf.’
From all of us, Liz, and from countless others who can’t be here today, thank you. Go and get your ice cream and then dance wild, wild dances with the God that indeed is your Lord, your life, your love, and has been for so very, very long.
Convent of the Holy Name
3 February 2016
*It was my guess that was wrong! Sr. Rosemary, who had chosen the readings, said to me afterwards, ‘Why do you think I chose that passage?’ ‘Bully for her!’ I say.