Edna Cooper was a mentor, an encourager, and a teacher in my life. But much more than that, Edna Cooper was my friend. She was, and her memory will continue to be, a unique and very special gift of God’s grace, not only my life, but in the life of my family. Little did we know when we moved across the street from her some 18 years ago, with one toddler in tow and another one on the way, the many ways that Edna would grace our family. She not only became a surrogate mother for this oft befuddled young wife and mom, but she became the “in-town” grandmother to my two daughters, rarely missing a ballet performance, a piano recital, even a soccer game or two.
But most of you in this room today are undoubtedly not surprised to learn of this grace that so permeated Edna’s life. That is how you knew her. That is how you experienced Edna. You all were her friends in Sunday School; her walking partners, her bridge buddies, her DAR peers, and some of you perhaps go way back, sharing her child--rearing days. I would even imagine that many of you have received, as we did, one of her famous chess pies that showed up on our back doorstep not more than 12 hours after we moved in across the street. You understand what I mean when I say that Edna not only spoke the language of love, she lived it.
If you knew Edna very well you know that she loved all of God’s creation…flowers, animals and especially birds. She was an avid bird-watcher…..and loved birds of all varieties. Her home was full of bird books, bird figures, she even had a bird clock that sang every hour! In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells us that birds are great teachers……He says “Look at the birds in the sky” (Matthew 6.26)....and the word “look “ there is really a verb that is saying more than just view, rather it means……consider, take notice, look at with insight, behold. I think sweet Edna took this imperative instruction of Jesus to heart, and in the simple gift of birds, her life and legacy was shaped.
Birds are great teachers. Birds teach us about faith. Scripture says, “Birds do not sow and reap and store in barns, they depend rather, on their Heavenly Father to feed them.” I do not have to stand up her and tell you that Edna was a woman of great faith. You know that. A Depression–era child she faced challenge and hardship head on throughout all of her life, beginning with her childhood experience of 8 siblings being separated in order to survive. Edna’s faith in the living God was real by life experience and transformative in who she was as a person. An active member of the Fellowship Sunday School class for 56 years, she loved to not only study Scripture, but put it into practice in radical hospitality and gracious living. A nurse for many years, her compassion and caring was one of the vessels in which she shared God’s love. It was Edna’s faith that drew me to her. We often shared about different struggles in our lives, and most often these discussions would end with reflecting on God and God’s goodness…..on God’s provision and presence…..and that was enough to encourage both of us to carry on. I am grateful for the faith that Edna lived and for the faith that she shared. Birds also teach us about hope. Each time I see a bird fly so effortlessly in the air, each time I hear the joy in the song of a lark, God’s Holy Spirit reminds me of the hope we have in Him. We however, often use the word “hope” when we want something to happen, but have little assurance that it will. I hope Tiger will win. I hope the stock market will change. I hope I will not be sick. Hope understood this way is often filled with uncertainty and implausibility. Christian hope is different. Though life might be hard now, in time God, who is the source of hope, is at work renewing and reconciling all things unto him. This hope is based not on uncertainty, but on the trustworthiness and love of God. Throughout her life, as Edna experienced the strength and the freedom and the joy that God provided, she learned to place her hope in Him, and Edna was enabled to soar over each difficulty. The prophet Isaiah says “The Lord is the Everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom. God gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles, they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Edna was one such person who waited patiently, whose hope was in the Lord, who discovered the joy of life with God and His creation, who walked and did not faint. Because He lives, Edna could always face tomorrow. I am grateful for the gift of hope in Edna’s life and the hope that she shared with others.
Birds teach us faith…and hope…. and birds teach us about love. Although not human love, birds by nature teach us about family and about the sacrifice and the necessary strength that is involved in the love of family. Birds feed together, roost together…fly together. As a young woman, Edna tragically lost her first husband, her love, Jack, and was left to raise two young children as a widow in the 1960’s….not an easy task. She faced this loss with strength and grace, doing her very best to love and provide, in her own time of grief, whatever it took to raise and nurture her own two children. You who have walked with Edna in this life know this gentle strength and this strong grace that defined her love for her children. You have been witness to it as she has loved and cared for Samantha and John over these many years. She would sometimes confide to me over a salad at Harpers that she didn’t feel she had done enough for them or that she had not been as good as a mother as she could have. But on this day, let me remind you Samantha and John, of how very much Edna loved you, how very committed she was to you, and how much she sacrificed that you might know the depth and the strength and the genuineness of her love.
And not only did she love her own, she was a mother to her niece Sue who lost her mother, Edna’s sister, early in life. She graciously invited Sue and her family into the family nest, sharing the table, always generous in love. I think I am most grateful for the gift of love in Edna’s life and what she taught me about loving another.
Edna had a long and fruitful life….94 years… She was a woman of unswerving words and great strength. In jest I would sometimes call her the “tough old bird.” She was not afraid to talk about death. She was not afraid to die, to go home and be once again with her Creator. Jesus reminds us in Scripture that not a single sparrow falls without our Heavenly Father’s knowledge. The song that Edna chose for us to sing today speaks of this promise…In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity; In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity, In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory, Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see. Let us remember that Edna is more alive now in God’s loving presence, than she ever was on this earth.
I find it significant that Edna’s most favorite bird was the cardinal. Its bright, vivid red color enriches our world. Its company and song brings life to all who encounter it. Bird watchers say a cardinal’s presence reflects a time for us to renew our vitality. The female cardinal has a unique loud and clear whistle…a reminder to listen closely…As we remember with love, …our friend Edna, this day…..May we look for that vitality and listen for that whistle and song and be reminded of the gifts of Edna Cooper’s life… the faith, the hope, and the love that she so graciously chose to share and to give to each of us. Amen.
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