Summary: Eulogy for a lifelong Christian
Facing the death of a loved one is always a mix of bitter and sweet. It’s sweet in the memories we will always treasure, the laughter in the stories shared by those who have gathered and in the prayers and kind words of friends and family. It’s often not the grandest moments that stand out to us in these times, but the small things: a kind word that was received, a gesture which was shared, a hug or word of wisdom provided at just the right time, time spent doing the more mundane things of life like shopping, or working in the garden. But even in the midst of these memories, there is also a bitterness in times like these because we have lost a loved one, a friend, a father, a grandfather to death’s grip. There is a sense of separation, loss and anxiety in death. But it is our faith which will carry us through.
Henry Bosch writes, “A friend of mine visited Portugal some years ago on an evangelistic tour. He was delighted to find many believers who were "spiritual giants," among them a missionary from Great Britain named Eric Barker. He had spent over 50 years in Portugal preaching the gospel, often under adverse conditions. During World War II, the situation became so critical that Barker was advised to send his wife and eight children to England for safety. His sister and her three children were also evacuated on the same ship. Although his family was forced to leave, he remained behind to carry on his ministry. On the Sunday following their departure, he stood before his congregation and said, "I've just received word that all my family have arrived safely home!" He then proceeded with the service as usual. It was only after the service that the full meaning of his words became known to the congregation. They learned their pastor had been informed just before worship that a submarine had torpedoed the ship and everyone on board had drowned. But he knew that because all were believers, they had reached a more "desired haven" (Ps. 107:30). Although overwhelmed with grief, he was able to rise above the circumstances by the grace of God because the knowledge that his family was enjoying the bliss of heaven comforted his heart.”
Today as we stand in the midst of death, we too are comforted by the fact that Udell is not dead but now finds herself in her eternal home. This is the hope provided by the ending of each Gospel. All of them recount Jesus’ death but also the events of that Sunday morning. There is a finality in death in the minds of Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome as they journey together to anoint Jesus’ body for burial and watch the grave closed for the final time. Travelling in the darkness, they no doubt remembering the good times with Jesus, his teachings, his miracle and the hope of what could have been. But it is over. He’s dead. It’s final. For Jews, when you die, that’s it. But that morning when they arrived, they were amazed to find that the stone had been rolled away. And the greatest announcement ever came to them:
Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
He is not here! It’s in these words that we are reminded death has been defeated and today among all days, we cling to the hope of the cross and the power of the resurrection. And because of her faith, Udell is not here either. She has risen. As we come to her, we proclaim the sweetness of the Good News of our faith – Udell is not here! She is risen. She is risen indeed. Because of that, even in the midst of death we can celebrate and give thanks.
Udell was born and raised in Memphis, TN, the youngest child of 8 children, 2 boys and 6 girls, raised in modest surroundings. She began working in the Letellier-Philips Paper Company when in walked John on a business trip to town and Udell caught his eye. It wasn’t long before more frequent business trips led to a proposal and then marriage. This Memphis native with her thick accent (it took her awhile to lose it) moved to New Orleans and it was here that John and she started their life together. They had a loving and caring relationship filled with the fullness of activities the city and beyond has to offer: Mardi Gras parades and Krewes including Athernians, Babylon and Hermes, Thanksgiving at the Fairgrounds, as John was the President for 25 years, hunting and fishing at the mouth of the river. Udell was also an avid golfer and loved playing bridge at the church on Friday afternoons with other women of the church. She swam in the pool almost every day until she was 90.