Friday, January 06, 2012

Funeral of Megan Pietras

Megan was an angel.  Not this Christmas, the one before.  A flightless angel, as all children who act in nativity plays are, but an angel nonetheless - with a white dress and a halo and gossamer wings - pushed across the grass rather bumpily and at top speed by a fellow angel to announce the good news of Jesus' birth to a group of startled-looking shepherds and a crowd of about 2,000 gathered at the City of Canning's annual Carols by Candlelight Service.  It was one of those scene-stealing moments.

Angels of course are God's telegram service – messengers who I suspect are all too often flightless and prone to various terrestrial limitations - who nevertheless fulfill their divine function of reminding us what the good news is.  And the good news that Megan reminded us of – not just that night but always, I believe – is that the love that let's face it is the fundamental message of Christmas – that love received and love given really does have the power to transcend human suffering and limitation.

It is obvious that Megan suffered, despite the best and most gentle care of her family, the most loving attention of nursing and medical staff and all who had responsibility for her needs.  As her body grew the restrictions of her condition became more painful and frustrating and the task of those who cared for her more difficult and demanding.  The reality is that all too often our best and most loving care is powerless to heal or take away the burden of suffering from one we love.  Megan's death when it came was a blessing for her, a slipping away from pain into the sweetness of sleep.  And yet her life also, I believe, was blessed.  And her life was a blessing to others.

Megan's life was profoundly enriched by the love she received – from her family, from her carers, from members of this parish.  The numbers here today attest simply that Megan was loved beyond the demands of professional care, for the patient and beautiful girl that she was.  Love that cannot alter the fact or take away the impact of disability – nevertheless transforms and transcends its limitations.  Megan loved to be included, loved to be spoken to and touched – she knew the power of her own smile and often withheld it from me until I cajoled it out of her.  I often thought the children of our parish didn't even see Megan's physical condition as a reason not to include her.  Every activity in the Kidz Zone included Megan -whether it was craft or colouring in or making something unspeakable out of play-dough.  If Megan wasn't there, the kids would want to know why not.  Megan's life was enriched and extended by the fact that others believed in her and included her.

But if Megan was blessed by those who loved her, she was in more ways than she could possibly know - a blessing.  I can only wonder how you experienced her, but for myself I can say that she taught me something about the narrowness of my own perspective.  As a parish she taught us what it means to be inclusive and to think about the needs of others.  She challenged us to think for ourselves about the gospel – about Jesus' own example of compassion and inclusiveness and about the ways we put that - or fail to put it - into practice.  Megan challenged us by her patience and her gentleness, her ability to smile and to acknowledge us when our conversation all too often excluded her.

I chose for our Gospel reading this morning the story of Jesus raising from the dead a little girl, the daughter of one of the religious leaders.  You might think this odd, that Megan has fallen asleep not to be awoken again, but I think the story is telling us that resurrection is God's intention for every one of us.  The ancient world wasn't like our 21st century society – children were not idealised or thought to be especially important.  Presumably parents loved their children but so many died and the death of yet another one wouldn't normally cause a great commotion.  Girls were of even less account than boys.  And yet this little girl's father loves her enough to make a ridiculous request, to search out and plead with the local religious crackpot – not a good look for a respectable clergyman.  And so Jesus takes her by the hand, this little girl who in the culture of her time was of no account - and calls her back from the sleep of death – little girl, wake up. 

Today, Megan has been as gently raised from the sleep of death.  Really, we don't know anything about the life beyond this one except this – that the love that created Megan and that surrounded her in life also receives and welcomes her in death.  That God's love continues to work its loving purposes in her, to set her free from pain and suffering, and to complete her in joy.  This is the message of Jesus' own resurrection, and the hope by which we now commend Megan to God's loving care.