Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Memorial Service - Margaret Ross

Memorial Service – Margaret Ross
(August 23, 1933 – March 18, 2008)

Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 23; John 14:1-6
Tuesday, April 29, 2008 –
St. Alban’s Westwood

As we gather to say our farewells and to honor the life of Margaret Ross, I think it is particularly appropriate that we have this Gospel reading from John. This passage that we just read is the beginning of Jesus' farewell discourse to his disciples. In this discourse, Jesus sums up the purpose for his completed ministry on earth and tells his disciples about what is to come – about his death and resurrection. More importantly, for them, and for those of us gathered here today, he tells about what it means for humanity that he will be resurrected and ascend to Heaven.

When Jesus talks about going to his Father’s house, he is not just talking about location, but also about relationship (O’Day, 740). “The imagery of the dwelling places points to the inclusion of others in the relationship with God and Jesus. Jesus uses the domestic imagery to say ‘My return to God will make it possible for you to join me in the relationship that the Father and I share’” (O’Day, 741). For him to go, through death and resurrection, to his Father's house, with dwelling places for all, was to prepare a place of permanent fellowship. This Gospel passage is, therefore, not about separation, but about deeper fellowship.

Jesus promises to take his own to himself. This is a “promise of the arrival of the hoped-for age, which is marked by reunion and reconciliation with God, by inhabiting one’s ‘place’ in God’s home” (O’Day, 741). Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection provide us with the certainty that we are God’s beloved children and that God wants nothing more than for us to be reconciled to Him in this life, and to spend eternity with him when our lives on this earth are completed. His life, death, and resurrection provide the means by which this can and will happen for each and every one of us.

As evidenced throughout scripture, our Judeo-Christian faith is all about relationship – our relationship to our God and our relationships to one another. Ours is a story of a God who created us in his image. Ours is a story of a God who continually seeks to be in relationship with us. Ours is a story of men and women who seek to be in relationship with one another. Because of our story, we know that it is through relationship that we ultimately seek to know and be known by the One who created us. We accomplish this through community – through our communities of faith, and through the communities that are our families and friends. This importance of community, the centrality of relationship, was particularly evident in the life of Margaret Ross.

Various adjectives have been used to describe Margaret – elegant, stylish, gracious, dignified, thoughtful, loving, loyal, energetic, generous, dedicated, determined, and courageous. When applied to some people, many such adjectives can seem to be self-centered, even selfish. When applied to Margaret, these same adjectives point to qualities and characteristics used selflessly, purely for the benefit of others.

This is perhaps most evident in her family life. Family was incredibly important to Margaret. Early on, Margaret gave up a promising career in publishing to devote herself to Gordon – the rather footloose medical student she married and who later became a successful physician and instructor – and to her children. She spared no effort to care for her husband and support him in the demands of his career. Although by nature a very private person, she used her God-given talents and schooled herself in the skills required to meet the public demands of being the wife of a physician and faculty member. Likewise, she spared no effort to care for and improve the lives of Helen and Andrew, her beloved children. And in the last decade of her life, the same effort and devotion was extended to the newest joy in her life, her grandson, Matthew.

Despite being a private person, Margaret’s love for humanity took precedence. She used her considerable organizational skills and personal elegance and charm to further the programs of such organizations as the UCLA Faculty Women’s Club, the Medical Faculty Wives, and the UCLA Patients’ Library. She had a particular passion for music, and devoted a significant amount of time to the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, serving as a member of the Westside Committee of the Philharmonic for more than 30 years. She was especially committed to programs involving children, particularly Symphonies for Youth, Symphonies for Schools, and youth scholarship programs. She was so devoted to these causes that even after falling ill and becoming debilitated not only by illness, but also by the subsequent chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgeries, she concealed her symptoms and continued her volunteer efforts.

The community of faith was also incredibly important to Margaret, from her early days as a child in England. Her parents were pillars of the local Anglican Church in the town where she was born and raised. Her father was a lay reader, and both parents sang in the choir for decades. Her parents’ dedication to the church and to lives of faith undoubtedly rubbed off on Margaret. Upon leaving her native England to move to Los Angeles, she immediately made St. Alban’s her church home, attending services regularly for 40 years. So firm was her faith that she met her end with a calm confidence in an afterlife. Her dying wish, which is fulfilled today, was to have a brief memorial service held here, in this very chapel.

In everything she did, Margaret exhibited – she embodied – unconditional love and devotion to her community – the community of those who knew and loved her, the community of those whom she so selflessly served. If unconditional love and devotion to community are the hallmarks of the Kingdom of God, Margaret will fit right in in Heaven. And I think it’s safe to say that she certainly provided a foretaste of that Kingdom while she was here. Margaret lived the Gospel and proclaimed it to all she met through her actions – through her very presence.

Remember, today’s Gospel is not about separation, but about deeper fellowship. When Jesus opens his discourse by saying “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” he is exhorting his disciples “to stand firm in the face of his departure, when the events [of his death] may look to them as if evil and death are having their way. It is a rallying cry for strength” (O’Day, 740). These words and their intended meaning ring true for us here today, just as they did for the disciples. In this time of grief, and in the days ahead when the loss of Margaret’s life and her absence will be most painfully felt by you, her family and friends, remember this rallying cry. Yes, Margaret is no longer here physically, but that does not mean she is gone. She is still with you. She lives on in your hearts – in the memories of your time together and the joy you feel when you think about them, in the lessons that she taught you, in how she touched your lives to help form the persons you are today.

What Margaret means to so many people, the impact she had on so many lives, can best be summed up in the words of one of her dear friends: “Margaret was a bright, gracious spirit who warmed our world and infused it with a gracious love. May her light shine through generations. She was a blessing.”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


O’Day, Gail R. “The Gospel of John: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflection.” In Vol. IX of The New Interpreter’s Bible. Edited by Leander E. Keck, et al. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995.

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