ADDRESS OF BISHOP WHIPPLE
Burial of Nellie May, daughter of Luther and
BORN MARCH 22, 1853, AND FELL ASLEEP APRIL 18, 1873,
The Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour,
Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2012
Dear Friends and Children:
Our joyous Easter song has hardly died away before we meet by a loved one's grave. It would almost seem as if the gladness of Easter welcomes and Easter songs was to prepare us for the day when there is a cloud in every sky and a shadow on every heart. Of myself I would not speak one word to-day. It would be far greater comfort to my stricken heart to kneel and weep beside my child. For five years loving parents gave me this dear one to train her for a better home. She was ours longer than any daughter of St. Mary's Hall. She came to us a guileless Christian child with the dew of baptism on her brow. In all these years I do not recall one word, one look, one deed I would banish from my heart. I doubt if any teacher or pupil of St. Mary's ever heard her speak an unkind word. In study, in class, in Church, everywhere, she was a loving daughter. We saw the child open into womanhood with all those lovely traits which add such grace to woman. For five years she met us in the school-room and in the home. She knelt with us in prayer. She came with us to God's House. I laid hands on her in confirmation and gave her, her first communion. I can see her quiet face with the maidenly blush on her cheek. I can hear her gentle voice. I can see her quiet smile, for Nellie Dearborn was one of [3/4] those who will always be garnered in the heart. God knows how we all did love the child.
One year ago we gave her back to loving parents to be their stay in declining years. She was made for home and we knew the gladness she would bring. We have often prayed that our darling might be forever safe in the Shepherd's care and at last reach the better home. His love was wiser than our love. We would have kept her here, where thorns of sin press her feet, where cares make broad furrows and aching hearts grow weary with life's hard battle. We felt she was wanted here to be what Christian sisters are to brothers, who by their love shelter them from harm. We knew she was wanted to smooth the father's wrinkled brow of care and to have a mother's heart grow young as she saw in such a daughter her second self.
Jesus loved his lamb too well to leave her in such a world of sin and care and trial. She was His. We gave her to Him at the font of baptism. She was his by many a prayer from all who loved her. She was His by her own willing vow of betrothal when she received confirmation. She was His by these oft recurring communions when beside His altar she renewed her vows. One day, without a sound of footfall, He sent a messenger for His child. She then knew this was not her home. She felt that Jesus called her. Her turn had come. The way was very hard. The cup was very bitter. The cross of pain was very anguish. There was not one murmur crossed her lips. There was no drawing back even when her feet touched the cold waters. Even when the anguish of the torturing pain clouded her reason her very words told all [4/5] who heard her that she was of "the pure in heart who shall see God." She was glad that when the world was bright she gave herself to Jesus. Not even the shadow of a doubt ever crossed her heart. Her unseen Lord never left His child through all the lonely watchings of the sick room. She leaned on Him when no one else could help her. The Lord was her Shepherd and therefore she could lack nothing. He led her through the valley and the shadow of death, fearing no evil, and so she is safe forevermore.
I can now see that when she was our child at St. Mary's Hall she was gathering manna for the last journey. She loved her old home, her friends and playmates, the sweet familiar scenes of her happy childhood and one of her last requests was that she might sleep with us and with our loved ones waiting for the Resurrection.
I have no wish to-day to try and solve the mystery why she was early called. I can learn that on the Resurrection morn. It seems as if Jesus' words were for us all to-day, "What I do thou knowest not now, but shall know hereafter." It may have been to draw this home nearer to Heaven where so many loved ones have gone before. It may have been to help us, to whom God lends His lambs, to a deeper insight into a teacher's trust. It may have been for these daughters of St. Mary's Hall, who have now two of their number in Paradise. We all know how strangely the world comes in between us and God; how we are always building as if this was to be our home; how temptations turn us aside; how old sins and fetters bind us to the earth. If there were no lessons from Our Father's voice, where would we go? [5/6] We cannot fathom the mystery but we do know that "it is well."
Dear friends, Death is the door through which we all must go. How dark it would be without the cross! How lonely without the Saviour! How hopeless without the Resurrection! Is it not blessed to blend Easter welcomes with these partings! to know that Jesus passed this way before our dear one; that He conquered death, and has prepared a home for those who love Him.
For a little while her body will rest in God's acre—her ransomed spirit has gone to the land of the departed, where God's sainted ones are waiting for our coming. "They are in the hands of God, and no torment can touch them." The grave is only the seed-bed of the Resurrection, and they who sleep in Him shall awake in His likeness. If we knew and loved them when sin fettered them and death marred their beauty, what shall they not be to us when the corruptible shall have put on incorruption and the mortal shall have put on immortality? Easter is the pledge of our reunion; the risen Saviour who wears in His hands the marks of the nails is the surety of this. The Church has always treasured this as the hope of her stricken households. We rest our faith on the promise of our God. The Almighty Father who clothes these earthly bodies with life has pledged us the comfort of the Resurrection. "We know in whom we trust." As we part so we shall meet again. "We sorrow not as men without hope, for if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him."
One lesson more: There will be other partings. We, too, [6/7] shall go down over the broken way where, for so many countless generations, men have been going and weeping. There will come to every one the same silent messenger. Friends will linger beside our dying bed. Our graves are waiting for each one of us. The same loving voice which called our child to find rest in Him also calls us. The same Christian path is ready for our feet. The same Saviour waits to hear our prayer. The same grace is ready to pardon. The same strength is ready to help. The same Shepherd will lead us to the Heavenly home. Brethren, friends, children, you will heed God's lesson. You, fathers, for the sake of those dearer than life, will make yours a Christian home. You will not turn these lambs of Jesus from His own blessed fold.
You, too, dear children, will remember the blessed hope of the Christian grave. There is only one Way, only one Guide, only one Saviour. It will be dark to go down to the grave without Christ. May God grant that whoever of us shall go next, we may go trusting in His mercy, leaning on His grace in the confidence of a certain faith, in the comfort of a religious and holy hope; in favor with God, and in perfect charity with the world.