A week ago we lost one of our oldest, but dearest members of our congregation, Agnes Traviss. Yesterday her funeral was held. Until my release two months ago, I had been her bishop for several years. I had truly enjoyed her company. She always wore that gleaming smile on her face that would make you forget your own worries for a moment. Often when I looked at her from the stand I thought about her life as a single woman, struggling to get by. She had had many reason to complain, but never once did I hear a bitter word from her lips. On the contrary, she always gave thanks and praise, especially to her Lord Jesus, who had given her the richest of lives. This was the lasting impression and legacy she left to my heart: her perfect example of gratitude. Imaging if we all could adopt this feeling of appreciation for life, and not think so much on what we are missing, but rather about the wonderful gifts already in our hands.
As awkward as it sounds, I believe her death has actually increased my love. I was given a chance to sing at her funeral. For obvious reasons, I usually get quite choked up when singing at funerals, but yesterday was different. I felt a great calm come over me, especially as I thought of Agnes. The thought came to mind of the last time I saw her alive. I had gone to visit her in the hospital on a Sunday, and taken with me some youth from Church. We had chatted about life for awhile, after which we sang two hymns for her. Then we blessed the sacrament (communion) and gave it to her. I remember how happy she was. It didn’t seem to matter to her that her whole body was on the brink of destruction, now that her spirit had been renewed. Again the gratitude. Again the love to her Saviour.
As I thought of this during my song, and in the following moments, I came to understand more clearly how important each individual is, and how we have to impart unconditional love to all we come in contact with. This is what Jesus taught, especially the kind of love shown to the needy. In James 1:27 we read:
“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”
So when it comes down to it, it matters little about the amount of knowledge we possess, or how load we shout the name of Jesus (as some people do, thinking this act will save them somehow). “Pure religion” is something else: It’s not knowing or saying – it’s doing; it’s caring about the poor and the needy, or the lonely, as in Agnes’ case. If we don’t care for the needy in the spirit of true charity then we are just as Paul described, a “tinkling cymbal” (I Cor 13:1), a person making a lot of noise, but doing no good.
So yes, I carry a sadness in my heart today for the loss of Agnes. But I am also happy she helped me realize what the power of love can do to a person. And although I am only human, I hope through the grace of God that my eyes will be opened so I can truly see the needs of others. I pray we all can.
This is a picture of Agnes with some friends from Church at our traditional, Swedish lobster party last year. You will notice her smile, something she always wore.