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The Ampersand
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Memorial Remarks
Fred & Ethel

Fred & Ethel, Ethel & Fred. It didn’t matter much how you said it. You might as well be saying ham & eggs, or salt & pepper, or gin & tonic. We are here today because Fred & Ethel touched our lives. You can’t see my manuscript, but if you could, you would see that every time I have written Fred & Ethel, Ethel & Fred, I have connected their names with an ampersand. The ampersand is that funny, curvy symbol that you will find on a computer keyboard if you shift the key for the numeral seven.

I wanted to know a little about the ampersand, so I did the modern equivalent of the encyclopedia search—I looked it up on Wickipedia. (If you don’t know what Wickipedia is, ask your children or your grandchildren.) The ampersand is no modern invention. It can be traced to the First century AD, the beginning of which is when Jesus was born. For centuries, it was the 27th letter of the alphabet that children learned in school. There are a few acceptable ways to write the ampersand, and it goes by a few different names in different languages.

But the most interesting fact about the ampersand, and the reason that I am talking about is this afternoon was hidden in a little paragraph near the end of the Wickipedia article titled “Ampersand Symbol”. Thank you for bearing with me thus far. I think you will soon understand why I am talking about it. This is that paragraph:

“The main surviving use of the ampersand is in the formal names of businesses (especially firms and partnerships, particularly law firms, architectural firms, and stockbroker firms) The common explanation as to why the plus sign is not used instead is that a partnership is a relationship, and therefore more than simply adding one person with another.”

There may be a tree somewhere with "Fred+ Ethel" carved in it, since they were high school sweethearts, and that is the sort of thing that high school sweethearts are known to do. But Fred + Ethel does not really represent what we are here to celebrate.

When Fred was born to eternal life on Monday, the two had turned towards each other, and reached out to touch each other, just as they had for 70 years. When Ethel was left behind for those two days until Wednesday, I thought a lot about what it would mean to have two services, one for Fred and one for Ethel. It didn’t seem quite right to me to honor separately two people who demonstrated the kind of sacrificial love that they did one for another. But at that time, the season for celebrating Ethel's life and her new birth had not yet come, and so we gathered around her bedside and surrounded her with the love that Fred no longer could.

As we gathered around Ethel’s bedside, Fred’s bed already empty, I thought about the time two years ago when they lived at Cecelia place, just around the corner from my house, when I would pop in for a quick visit on my way home from church because it was so convenient. I had just moved back to Snow Belt, to be the pastor of St. Stoic, the church they had loved so much, the church where their daughter Ricki had played such an active role until her untimely death.

What I remember about Fred & Ethel, in those days was the symbiotic nature of their relationship. What Fred lacked in mobility, Ethel had covered back in those days. When Ethel lost her place momentarily in the plot of a story she was telling me, Fred was right there to pick up the slack, or to answer her questions, “It was the lake house, right Dad?”

The reason that we think of Fred & Ethel and not Fred + Ethel is that Wickipedia has it right, at least about this: “why the plus sign is not used instead is that a partnership is a relationship, and therefore more than simply adding one person with another.”

Honoring Fred & Ethel together this afternoon is more than the function of simply adding one person with another. We are here today to pay tribute to an extraordinary love, an extraordinary couple, an extraordinary family, and an extraordinary promise from God.

I think it is not coincidence that the ampersand dates back to the birth of Christ. Given what we understand about the meaning of relationship and of joining not just people but hearts, mind and spirits, I think of Jesus as the ultimate Ampersand. Jesus makes everything different; not merely another human being added to the mix, he was God on earth with us. He is the ultimate relationship. With Jesus we are no longer “Humanity + God” or “God + Humanity”. We are God & Humanity, Humanity & God. We are in full relationship with God. We are God’s family, and with family comes the promise of eternal life.

So we celebrate today that Fred & Ethel have joined together with all those saints who went before, with their beloved daughter Ricki, and their parents, and siblings who have gone on ahead of them. The lesson I have learned from knowing Fred & Ethel is to look for the ampersands in my life, to pay attention to relationships, and not take them for granted.

In the hope and sure knowledge that we do not rest until we rest in you O Lord, we say, Thanks be to God.

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