This afternoon we will gather to celebrate our God and honor Mary Jeanne Buttrey. In that order. The first half of the service was crafted by Mary Jeanne herself. She selected the songs and texts and themes. The second half? Not so much. Her family has put together some moments that will let us to ponder what Mary Jeanne allowed God…really invited God…to do in and through her life. I promised her that our focus will be on God and His plan and His power and His might. But we will take some time to remember her faithfulness as well, because that honors God too.
I heard of her passing while in Israel. It was just before dinner one night in Jerusalem. I shared with our group the news and there were tears. Of course. But I also had sat in my office in March and to discuss what Mary Jeanne wanted from her service, when that day came. She was clear and she was firm. The service was to be about God first and foremost. As it should be. But Fanny J. Crosby was right when she penned these lyrics, “To God be the glory, great things He has done.” We give God glory out of what He has done.
As we sat in my office, Mary Jeanne agreed that sharing stories of the impact of her life was a vehicle to bring glory to God, not her. She resisted, because the focus had to be on God, not on her. We will tell stories this afternoon, but we will not neglect to tell the greatest of all stories, the one story which gives us hope in the midst of our grief. The story of Jesus.
We must tell the story of redemption because it points to the future. It’s good to remember the past, so we will. It’s good to laugh, so we will. But when the story of the past is not part of the story of redemption, the memories are sanitized. Flaws and failures are shoved from sight. We edit the hard parts out and we are left with an image of a beautiful human being, too perfect to be real. That was Mary Jeanne’s fear, that she would rob God of the glory of His work in her life. We must tell of God’s greatness.
The story of Mary Jeanne’s life is intertwined with the story of redemption. Following the thread of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation will lead us to a hope grounded in truth. That is the balance we hope to strike. And make sure that when your service is planned, we are told to strike that balance too.
As we sat there together in March, I could hear asking us all this question from the angels on Resurrection Sunday: “‘Why are you weeping?’” Why indeed. We have our list, as we always do. But Mary Jeanne is not weeping, and she did not want us to be overcome with grief for her. She is breathing the air of heaven in the presence of her Risen Savior. She is where she longed to be. The story of redemption promises today to be a day laced with hope. We weep, but with hope because our God has defeated death and the grave. We have a story to tell!