Homily at

Memorial Service for Lisabeth Marie Feind Holloway

by Reverend Dr. John Nagle

At Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Lisabeth Marie Feind Holloway      March 12, 2011

Lisabeth Holloway was born in Mitchell, South Dakota. It's a pleasant enough little town; I've been there several times. But other than the fact that Lisabeth was born there, Mitchell is known as the home of the Corn Palace, a municipal exposition building that attracts tourists from around the world, principally because of the huge murals that take up every bit of the building's exterior wall space. Sometimes the pictures boast agricultural themes. Sometimes the pictures are historical. Always they are made completely out of corn and corn products. What Pasadena has done for roses, Mitchell, South Dakota, has done for corn. And it's quite the attraction. Huge pictures. Beautifully done. And all of it is made from corn. Harvested corn. Dried corn. Corn no longer lively. Corn that is dead. And in that, is the theme for what I share with you today.

You'd think that when something dies, it is good for nothing. Indeed, that's the way the world looks at death. That it's an ending, and that there isn't much that follows. But how different that is from the proclamation of the church that says, even in death, there is good news that can be proclaimed. Isn't that the theme of Easter itself — that though Jesus died, yet he was raised from the dead. And that he gained new life. So it is the Mitchell Corn Palace — that what anyone, everyone, said was dead, in the hands of a master designer takes on new life, a new beauty, a new presentation. And people come from far and wide to see what is to be seen. To see and be amazed that what was dead is made alive.

The first lesson today says as much. In the 40th chapter of the Old Testament of Isaiah, we read that "all people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall." And it's that way with corn too. It's planted, it pokes through the soil, it grows, it gives its yield, and it dies. And you'd think that's the end of it. But it's not, for that which dies gives new life. A seed is dry, but it's the very thing that grows again the next year. Not that the topic right now is agricultural, but theological. Hear again the words from Isaiah: "the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of God endures forever."

And is that what you need to hear today? That though the world — and maybe you — says that death is an ending, the proclamation of the church is that this is just the beginning. Their is death of course. Who can deny that. But the death that we feel is but the next step in the life to be lived. And we shall we say that Lisabeth's death and new life is akin to the witness of the Mitchell Corn Palace? I've seen the murals on the walls of that hall. They're beautiful and intricate and a wonder to behold. And I remind you, they're made from what the world says is dead. But you and I know other pictures — pictures of Lisabeth's life, up there for all to see. Beautiful pictures. Memorable pictures. Inspiring pictures. Look, there she is portrayed as the daughter of devout and devoted parents. There she is as a talented and consistent worker. There she is being honored for her life's work. There is a picture of her cataloging. There is a picture of her as wife and mother. And there is more. And you can tell rest of us all about still other images. What we'll call Lisabeth pictures. Surely you know them. Surely you delight in them. Surely they are in front of you clearly seen. And are any of those pictures composed of something dead? No, not at all. Rather, made from something alive. For this is what the church confesses — that though there is death, surely there is life. That as Jesus died, so we die. But as Jesus was raised from the dead, we are raised too. And in life, look at the use God made of Lisabeth. Nor was it just by chance.

On the walls of the Mitchell Corn Palace, those works of art and stories of life don't just appear there, suddenly and haphazardly. No wind picks up kernels and shocks and blasts them against a wall. No, what is shown is intentional. It's a master's vision that takes what was and makes it into something else. A master, an artist, someone with a careful hand and a loving heart. And do you think I am still talking about the Corn Palace? No, but talking now about Lisabeth's life. Life that was arranged by a master, an artist, someone with a careful hand and a loving heart. And in her was life. God who gave life at the beginning who gave Lisabeth life too. Who gave her life, and who, at her death, gave her new life. That's what we proclaim. That's what we believe. That's the Word of God that endures forever.

And someone says, it's very nice that you picture Lisabeth's life as so kind and gracious and loving and complete. But would anyone mind if we grieved for awhile? Not mind at all. It can't be denied that death is a time of sadness, of longing, maybe even regret. Death is for many people a time of tears. But not a time of tears only. Scripture says, if for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are to be pitied. But instead we live with hope even as Lisabeth lived with hope. Even died with hope. Even lives again resurrected, as does Jesus.

And just there is the other picture we see on the walls of the Corn Palace. The picture we see on the walls of life. Not simply pictures of Lisabeth and all that she meant, but an even large picture, an even greater picture, of the Lord who took her by the hand and accompanied her through life. Of the Lord who himself was dead, lie harvested corn, but who lived again. Who was raised up. And if he was raised, so is Lisabeth raised. And if Lisabeth is raised, so can we be at that moment when the world says, it's over. The grass withers and the flowers fall. That's what the world says. But I know differently, for I've seen the Corn Palace and the witness it gives. And you have known Lisabeth and the witness her life has given. That though there is death, there is life. New life. And it is a gift from God. Though we grieve, surely we can rejoice. Though we think of what was, we look forward to what will be. And in it all we see the hand of the artist who fashions our life, even in his image.

Mitchell, South Dakota, is a small town. And for a few years, it was Lisabeth's town. But now she lives most fully with God, to whom we give all praise and honor in thanksgiving for his child, Lisabeth, and for all the beautiful pictures of her life.