On August 10 I went to the funeral of Sister Constance Murphy at St. James Cathedral in Toronto. For seventy-seven years, she had been a life-professed member of the Society of the Sisters of St. John the Divine (SSJD).
Her sisters nursed her to a holy and peaceful death at the age of 109-and-a-half.At her requiem, the sisters read the lessons, proclaimed the gospel and led the prayers of the people. At the breaking of the bread of the eucharist, they sang a lovely refrain of “Alleluia,” reminding us all that Jesus is the bread of life and that “whoevers eat this bread will live forever” and Jesus “will raise them up on the last day” (John 6:35, 40, 57).
Following the communion, the choir sang the ancient kontakion, “Give rest, O Christ, to thy servants with thy saints.”
As Sister Constance’s remains were carried from the cathedral, the congregation sang,
Come away to the skies, my beloved, arise and rejoice in the day thou wast born. On this festival day, come exulting away, and with singing to Zion return (Hymn 225, Common Praise).
Her precious remains were placed in the hearse. As it left the cathedral and headed off to the crematorium, the sisters were all waving “goodbye”-a tearful yet thankful, sorrowful yet hopeful farewell to one who, in so many ways for so many years, had enriched their life as a community. I was moved to tears as I witnessed this final act of love and gratitude.
Knowing the sisters as I do, I recognized that they waved their goodbye in every confidence that on a distant shore, another great company, beyond number, was greeting their beloved Constance-the angels, the saints, and holy women and men in every age welcoming her into the presence of the Lord.
In that final gesture toward Constance, SSJD, I saw the essence of what we celebrate as we keep the feasts of All Saints and All Souls. One company says, “Farewell.” Another says, “Welcome.” Both find their joy and their hope in Christ, crucified and risen.