May 31, 2019, Parham: Good afternoon Church.
I wish to express the sympathies of my family and of the entire Constituency of St. Peters to the family of Edna Estella JAMES even as we prepare to bury her remains. To her life-long friend and dedicated husband Lester James, who shared 37 loving years together with her; her six children Gloria, Dorsie, Eslyn (deceased), Nehemiah(Teba), Ruthlyn and Navine; her 27 grandchildren and 21 great grandchildren.
Today, we have gathered to bid farewell to my Ms. Edna Estella James, whom I love dearly and whose love for all in her family is legendary. A true matriarch of her family. She was kind and generous, calm and caring, unflappable and unpretentious. She possessed the generosity of a Saint and the firm hand of a Mother Theresa. God has blest us by sending her to be our adult guardian and peacemaker; and, we thank the Almighty for His everlasting goodness.
It is often the case that the love which flows among the members of a household or a family can indeed be traced to those at the very pinnacle of that family. Love often obeys the law of gravity, percolating downwards effortlessly. But, human love can also generate outwards and upwards, flowing against the tide just as easily, whether there are barriers or defenses. Edna James was able to cause love to spread out in every direction. She was loved, as she loved others; strangers loved her and she shared great joy and glad tidings with those she encountered. For her the season of Christmas was every day.
My Comrade was born before the Antigua Trades and Labour Union was created on January 16, 1939. That institution made 80 years this past January 2019. My sister is 86 years, having been born on December 6, 1932. She lived for 50 years almost before Antigua and Barbuda became an independent nation; yet, she exhibited all the qualities of one who was born free and sovereign, determined to serve her God, her family, her community and country.
My dear Comrade and Friend lived for 37 years following that great November 1st morning in 1981. She saw many changes in her great little country, and she was very appreciative of its magnificent leadership. She lived a very long and productive life which afforded her wisdom to make smart choices.
No matter how long one might live, and no matter how fulfilling a life may have been, death makes us all sad. It is a human condition. Cultures deal with death in different ways. As a culture steeped in Christianity, we believe that death is not final. We believe that the trumpet will sound, the dead in Christ will rise, and the judgment will determine whether one joins the good in heaven or is sent elsewhere for sins committed.
“Oh death, where is thy sting? Oh grave, where is thy victory?” Despite these un-knowables, we have a God and teachings which sustain us. And we have creeds which help to explain what joys await us. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled.” If my sister Edna Estella could speak here, in this farewell service of worship, Edna Estella James would recite Christ’s greatest expression of a promised reward: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Here lies a truly outstanding woman of God who gave of herself to her family, her neighbourhood, her village and her country. Despite a paucity of resources in colonial Antigua, she never failed to share whatever she might prepare for her husband and children with neighbours, who had less.
She was a farmer who understood that though the earth bringeth forth her increase in due season, all works which pleaseth God are recorded by the Lord, who will reward thee in heaven for good works on earth and for faith.
There are many in this community who have grown up with a knowledge of the great transition which the entire country experienced after the formation of the trade union. The leaders and followers set about to build a new Antigua. My sister and comrade lived through a time when houses made from mud and sticks dominated the landscape. She knew that the great changes which she witnessed in her lifetime were the consequence of wise choices by her parents and their parents. She resolved to place faith in the great institutions created to bring improvements to a destitute land.
My sister, her husband, her children and their extended family have always chosen to live by a creed of faith, in the ability of those whom you choose to take care of your interests. That has not changed. Whatever the circumstances, rest assured that your collective choice is always the best choice.
In the Book of Psalms, we learn that David was sold into slavery by his brothers. While they may have thought that their choice would ensure that it was the last time that David would be in their lives, fate would have it that his ability to interpret dreams made him a favorite of the King. David would emerge as King of Israel, and come to the rescue of those who threw him away.
Khalil Gibran, one of my favourite poets, wrote the following about death:
Talk not of my departure with sighs in your heart;
Close your eyes and you will see me with you forevermore…
Go back to the joy of your dwelling and you will find there
That which death cannot remove from you and me.
It is near-impossible not to have sighs in your heart on the passing of Edna Estella James, your wife, mother, grandmother, friend and neighbor.
You may close your eyes in order to imagine Ms. Edna James during happy times; but the tears may escape through your eyelids. You will return to your dwelling places but will find that knowledge of “Ms. Edna” pass will remain with you, and cause the joys of your homes to be diminished.
The poet knew that theses human reactions would occur, yet, he wanted us to resist those human traits at a time when death connects us brazenly to our humanity, and reminds us callously of our mortality.
Our religion also seeks to comfort us in death.
Those of us who are Christians believe that faith in the Almighty will cause us, on Judgment Day, to see that faces of our loved ones who have gone before.
We believe that to love God, to do good works, and to live a life of charity will cause God to look favorably upon us after death, and that as a reward for goodness, we will see God’s face.
If this is indeed the formula for everlasting salvation, then I am compelled to believe that Edna Estella James has already been welcomed into the arms of her Jesus. She has seen God’s face.
In the words of the great Lebanese Prophet, Poet and Philosopher, Khalil Gibran:
But let hearts sing with me the song of Eternal Life;
Mourn not with apparel of black,
But dress in colour and rejoice with me;
Leave this place, for what you see here is far away in meaning
From the earthly world. Leave me.
For what it is to die, but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun
And what it is to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God,
Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountaintop then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your wings, then shall you truly dance.
I am persuaded that death cannot and will not remove the spirit of Edna James from us. She will live on in our memory and in our hearts. Close your eyes and you will see her; return to your homes and there you will find that death cannot remove her from us.
Dance Ms. James my dear Edna dance on!
The Lebanese poet would also say about the separation of brethren from their kinfolk: AND I SHALL RISE AGAIN.
Edna Estella James may appear to be separated from her kinfolk, but one day she will rise again.
I ask the God of our forebears to guide her hand in the other world so that she may return to us emboldened, filled with wisdom, and certain in the knowledge that love will never grow old, love will never grow cold, love conquers all.
I love you. God loves you. Farewell. May her Soul Rest in Peace. Thank you. God bless.