We Are Easter People


John 11:23-27
Bishop Jonathan D. Keaton
Saturday, November 3, 2012
First Wayne Street UMC
Ft. Wayne, Indiana
I remember one of the last Council of Bishop’s meetings Bishop Duecker attended.   We rode together on a bus to the Memorial Service.  During our conversation, Sheldon said his wife wanted me to preach her funeral service   I gasped; took a meditative deep breath and agreed.  Quite frankly, I was surprised.  Among those who knew her a lot, I knew her the least.  The Duecker’s had a plan.  And they had decided where I would be involved.  All I had to say was yes or yes!!  In a September 29th, 2010 message to me, Bishop Duecker gave me some talking points for today.   “Tell them that Marge’s death and dying is not the full story of today.”  Jonathan, emphasize that we are an “Easter People.”  Not only that, emphasize that “we have hope in an afterlife of joy and reunion with those we love.” 
This perspective sounds like a sliver of scripture concerning the death of Lazarus.  Martha chides Jesus for not being present when her brother died.  He could have prevented Lazarus’ death.  Responding, Jesus tells Martha that her brother will rise again.  “I know he will,” Martha retorts.   “During the resurrection on the last day, he will rise again.”  Then our Lord said to Mary, “I am the resurrection and the life, whosoever believeth in me though he die, yet shall he live.”  And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall not die eternally.”  Then, Jesus said to Martha “Do you believe this.”  Martha answered, “Yes Lord, I believe…”  Just as Jesus told Martha, Sheldon’s wife, your mother, grandmother, great grandmother, step-grandmother, aunt, friend, acquaintance and our partner in faith wanted me to tell you again and again, Marjorie Louise Duecker “was an Easter person.”  She had hope in an afterlife of joy and reunion with those she loves.”   Marje believes she will rise again.     
To be an Easter person, Mrs. Duecker had to “live Easter daily.”  Her marriage was a portrait of love and renewal.  She and Sheldon were joined for 63 years.  By faith, they made it “ to death do us part, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health”.  Marje and Sheldon raised two children to adulthood.  And grandchildren blessed their lives.  I saw how they loved one another when first we met in 1988.  I saw how they loved and cared for one another entering retirement in 1996.  My mental portrait of them is enriched in color, tone and resonance when I drove from Lansing, Michigan to Sweet Blossom Court, Ft. Wayne, Indiana to take them to breakfast.  My last observation of their ever renewing relationship came by video.  Both of them attended the groundbreaking at Epworth Forest for new cottages.  They held hands for physical support but more as an expression of their marriage.  “See how they loved one another,” my mind said.  It’s a snapshot of their capacity to rekindle the love which first brought them together for 63 years.  If that’s not living Easter, I don’t know what is.   Now, they are together again. 
Second, her ministry was a model of restoration.  Most of it occurred out of the limelight.  Before the concept of “Radical Hospitality” became vogue in United Methodism, Marjorie Duecker had practiced it for years. Race, creed nor color made no difference to her when mealtime arrived.  Family, friends and guests succumbed to her “fixings.”  They succumbed to how she served them.  Just like Jesus’ visits to the home of his good friend Lazarus, Mary and Martha, people succumbed to joyous fellowship at her table.  Two particular interests of hers gave several ostracized groups or people a new lease on life.  Marje Duecker taught English as a Second Language at Elgin Community College. 
Two Polish immigrants struggling mightily to learn English saw her as a Godsend.  She taught them well.  And helped them increase the quality of their loves.  Another group still grappling with ostracism today celebrated her radical hospitality.  Marje Duecker, the Bishop’s spouse, agreed to be the advisor to the HIV-AIDS ministry in Northern Illinois Conference.  Ignoring what people might say, Marje Duecker went the second mile.  She invited the HIV-AIDS group to use the Episcopal Residence as their regular meeting place.  “Oh, I know the “fixings” were good.  More importantly, her ministry to and with persons with HIV-AIDS reeked of resurrection.                         
Third, her humor and occasional zingers were medicine for the soul.  Sheldon and Marje loved to laugh.  Humor that tickled the funny bone without hurting others was medicine for their souls, minds, bodies and spirits.  Quick witted, very direct, knowledgeable, inventive and playful with those she knew, Marje Duecker was an enigma.  Sometimes I’d call and she’d answer in two ways.  If she knew I wanted to talk to the Bishop, she developed the fastest hand off in history.  She’d say, “Sheldon, Jonathan” and be gone like a bolt of lightning across the Indiana sky.  Other times, she used a different approach.  When Mrs. Duecker called my name, she usually said Jonathan rarely Bishop.  Occasionally, she seemed to get a kick out of picking up the phone when I called and catching me off guard saying “Hi ya doing, John Keaton?”  Then, we’d talk for all of five minutes.  After that, it was “Sheldon, Jonathan or Here’s Sheldon.”  Yes, we liked and respected one another.  And yes, Marje Duecker could dispense the medicine of laughter with the best of them. 
Four, The Farm was a family place.  More importantly, it became a   metaphor for renewal.  A chance observation drove this fact home.  Annual Conference had just concluded.  Bishop Duecker left the stage quickly.  A
brisk walk through some halls, down the steps led him to a preselected spot where his wife was waiting.  She had checked out.  With the engine running and Marje driving, Sheldon hopped in on the passenger side.  And they “high tailed” it to The Farm. The Farm, it was a place to re-create themselves from the stress of conference or life’s tribulations.  The Farm, family and friends gathered there for food and fun.  So did our Cabinet.  Nothing like The Farm seemed to put the Dueckers at the greatest ease.  I saw it.  What I didn’t see nor should have seen was the restorative work of that farm.   It absorbed the grief and pain of family struggles, medical challenges and times of mourning for family members preceding her in death, among them a brother, in-laws and a beloved son, Philip Lee Duecker gone too soon.  By the time Sheldon left, the Farm had been gifted to the work of the church in Indiana to renew generations to come.  What I didn’t understand, Christine, but do now is “I was standing on their holy ground.  And angels were all around.”  At the Farm, “they praised Jesus now, because they were standing in his presence on Holy Ground.”  How so?  To re-iterate, The Farm served as a major place for grief work.  God visited them there.  Those visits allowed them to rise again to new life after suffering great loss, to keep on keeping on.               
Last but not least, Illness and dying strengthened her (their) belief in the resurrection.   Two different Christmas letters documented their claim as Easter People.  December 9, 2009, Marje and Sheldon Duecker wrote Marje was diagnosed with x, y and z.  And Sheldon is coping with a, b and c.  Nevertheless, “we celebrated our 61st wedding anniversary June 13, 2009,” they said.   “We still live in our own home. ..Our daughter Chris and her husband Dave Holman constantly provide support and encouragement.  We look forward to the celebration of the birth of Christ.  Because of him, Love has increased in the world.  Hope cannot be destroyed.  Life has endless possibilities.  Even though we are in our mid 80’s we affirm these realities. Life is good.”   If that is not resurrection talk and perspective, against the background grave diagnoses, I don’t know what is. 
Marje and Sheldon re-stated their resurrection notions in a 2010 Advent Greeting to Family and Friends. “God…I’m hiding out under your wings until the hurricane blows over.”  (Psalm 57.1, The Message)  Hear that, hiding out till the storm is over.  Again, they wrote Marge is dealing with a, b and c and Sheldon is battling x, y and z.  These words express our health concerns in 2010.  Nevertheless, “those health issues are not the full story of 2010.”  “We rejoice that… we are still at home.    We are thankful for the loving care of our daughter Chris and our son-in-law Dave Holman…  we rejoice that we were able to attend a family reunion in Ohio…and the…Reunion in North Carolina.  Sheldon was privileged to play golf … We are grateful for the prayers …so many people are raising on our behalf.  We are thankful for the spiritual and moral support provided by…First-Wayne Street United Methodist Church.”  “So we live fully each day as we claim these words of the Apostle Paul …We aren’t depressed.  But even if our bodies are breaking down on the outside, the person that we are on the inside is being renewed every day.” (II Corinthians 4:16. Common English Bible) In one fell swoop, they jumped from Christmas to Good Friday to Easter.   
Jonathan, “tell them that Marje’s death and dying is not the full story of today.  “Tell them she’ll rise again and that the family will be together after the resurrection. 
Let them add, Marje Duecker was certain about resurrection as was Martha about her brother Lazarus.  Marje was as sure about resurrection as Pope John Paul saying, “We are an Easter People and Hallelujah is our song.”  Marjorie Louise Duecker took Jesus’ message to heart “I am the resurrection and the life.”  As an Easter person, Marje knew him in whom she believed.  Amen