The Funeral of Salome Marie Holmio
John 15:9-17 and 2 Corinthians 4:7-5:7
Preached at Bethany, Escanaba: August 30, 2019
During one of the darkest periods of world history, just a few months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor plunged the United States into World War 2, Salome Marie Makela was born in Marquette, Michigan, to parents Eino and Laila. She was raised in the tightly knit, predominantly Finnish American community of Covington along with her siblings. There, among many other things, she learned to play the piano and provided accompaniment for worship in the Lutheran Church. She carried that love of music with her throughout her life.
After graduating from high school in L’Anse, she earned her college degree from Northern Michigan University. She fell in love with Aarne Holmio, the son of a prominent pastor and professor at Suomi Seminary in Hancock. They married and settled in the Copper Country, where she began a teaching career, which culminated in the twenty-five years she spent at Lemmer Elementary School here in Escanaba.
Aarne and Salome enjoyed a wonderful marriage relationship spanning forty-five years. They brought three children into the world, Matt, Alicia, and Andy, who together with their spouses blessed Salome with six grandchildren, and now, one beautiful great grandson, Clark Christopher, who was baptized here just a few weeks ago.
As I spoke with you, Salome’s children, I was struck by two things: how much you admired your Mom and by how much you will miss her.
It’s easy to see what you admired in her: she was devoted to her family, dedicated to the art of teaching, loyal to friends. She possessed that characteristic Finnish sisu, a generous spirit, and an unwavering faith in God which was her firm foundation. She was the matriarch of the family; the engineer, you said, “who ran the family train.” The one who seemed to know just how to “manipulate” every situation to achieve the best result. The anchor in a storm. The gracious host who set the table for her family every day, but also invited your friends and anyone at all in need of a good meal and a place to be. As teacher, she cared for her students in the classroom, but also beyond the classroom, in their daily lives. She was a friend you could always count on—one of those Lemmer buddies who met every week for lunch for years and years.
If you had to use one word to describe Salome’s life, I suppose it would be love. Her legacy will not be measured in dollars and cents or buildings engraved with her name, but by the love she expressed, and the fruit of love it has borne in your lives. In the gospel reading for today, Jesus speaks about this kind of love to his disciples, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. And this is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you.”
Imagine a chain of love, if you will—a chain that links together God our Creator with all us, God’s children. In between, is Christ Jesus, the connecting link. Salome and Aarne can be found on this chain of love, connected to Matt, Alicia and Andy; connected to Paige, Violet, Evelyn, Jace, Camden, and Arne; connected to Clark and those yet to be born. Love is the tie that holds the chain together. This love is not self-generated, but is a gift of God, embodied in Jesus and mediated to us through him. Yet it must also find it’s expression in human beings.
Today, we give thanks for the love we saw so clearly in Salome Marie Holmio.
In today’s second lesson, St. Paul says that God’s gift of love is our great treasure, but paradoxically, we who hold it are like clay pots. We are fragile, easily broken. Our bodies deteriorate; our minds, become fuzzy. Though beautiful, we are imperfect in every way. We struggle with sin and finally, all of us are mortal.
The last years of Salome’s life were not easy. After Aarne’s death, she struggled, as beloved spouses will. She fought diabetes and other other physical ailments, enduring several difficult surgeries. She became less mobile, more homebound, and finally had to leave her home on the bay to become a resident of Lakeview Assisted Living. It was there, earlier this week, that she suffered a stroke and died, on Tuesday morning.
When a loved one dies, it feels like the chain of love has been broken and our hearts are broken with it. But these texts proclaim to us that the chain of love is not in fact broken. The chain was forged by God in the blast furnace of Jesus’ own death and resurrection into something that nothing can destroy. From baptism onward, we carry in our bodies the death of Jesus, he says, almost as if it were the antibody or serum we need to counteract death, for as God raised Christ from the dead, so God will raise us. Death cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. And in a real sense, it cannot separate us from those who share in that love, those who have gone before us.
Even now, the Old Testament prophet Isaiah says, God is here, holding a handkerchief to wipe away the tears from every face. For God has swallowed up death forever. God has prepared for all nations a banquet of love. Imagine Salome’s table in Escanaba decked out for a Thanksgiving feast, but infinitely larger. God wears the apron. God is the chef, who sets the table with the richest wines and best food. God is the host, who invites everyone to the feast. No one who is hungry is excluded. Look closely and you will see Salome and Aarne sitting at the table. Use your imagination and you will find your own place, too.
This is the promise God gives to us. The treasure we hold in our clay pots. The love that will not let us go. Amen.