It’s a terrible and difficult thing for our world to lose someone as beautiful as Ella.
Someone who leads the rest of us poor souls through the human maze of what we desire and fear the most in life, and then gives us a map to help make sense of it all; a map constructed of faith and humor, and more grace than most of us can imagine. You know that person; that person in your congregation who has taught you to preach, who teaches you to be a pastor.
When I first met Ella, she and her friend had been parading around town, checking out garage sales. They seemed to enjoy the ordinary drama that surrounded the sub-culture of garage sales, i.e. the interesting and even disturbing things that people owned and were willing to share with the public for a profit. One Saturday morning they stopped by the church to check me out, the new pastor. The first thing Ella wanted to know was whether I had a sense of humor. She didn’t want an un-funny pastor.
That first conversation lasted a long time, years in fact. Ella had cancer and invited everyone in to talk about it. Anyone who was willing to be honest and ask questions and share some kind of joy or grace was asked to sit with her and talk. The two of us shared meditations through email when she was really sick and talks over the phone when she was up to it. But Sunday mornings after church with everyone gathered around her, when the light shined just right, or the snow would fall madly behind us, people would wander out of the hallway and say things like, “What are you laughing about so loudly? I could hear you all the way downstairs,” shine as the brightest, most holy of memories. You would find yourself drawn into Ella’s world; a world that held death at arm’s length, but a world where you heard the deepest grace, the most profound faith, and the sweetest humor. These things wove themselves together and created the great, large tapestry of Ella’s legacy; a wisdom in which anyone who entered saw real hope, real courage. A present that pointed toward the future. A promise that was drawn into the present.
Ella made me a better preacher and pastor simply because she couldn’t stop conversing with Jesus. Even when he confounded and frustrated her, even when his promises seemed out of reach that day, Ella couldn’t get this Jesus away from her. She really loved him, because I think she knew Jesus was deeply in love with her. I know they chatted all the time, unable to get one another off their minds. And now even after her death, the conversation continues. In this big, boundless world of Christ, Ella and you and I continue to be drawn in. A circle large and wide, though we cannot see to its horizons; the edges, the details are beyond our field of human vision. But it is a circle that contains us all. Call it heaven, call it afterlife, call it what you will, but Ella would call it God. And she would ask you to sit down with her, and want you to talk about it.
I’m sure there is an Ella in your congregation as well. One of those humble saints who teach you to preach, who bring you back to what is important, and whose lives reveal the gospel. They, more than any book, any blog posting, any conference, remind you that in Christ, in your ministry, you are not alone, nor are we far apart. They let you imagine there is a larger promise that encircles us and it is full of humor, full of faith, and full of grace.