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The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams – April 19, 2015 – Easter3, Year B: Luke 24: 36b-48

The gospel we just heard is part of the Emmaus resurrection narrative in the gospel of Luke which means that it fits into a larger picture of Jesus appearing to the disciples in varieties of settings.  First, two disciples were walking on the road to Emmaus and a “stranger” met them on that road and asked them about what had been going on in the city of Jerusalem.  Not recognizing this stranger to be Jesus, they questioned how he could be so out of it.  The stranger then opened their hearts and minds to understand the Scriptures and when the three settled in for the evening in Emmaus, the “stranger” blessed and broke the bread the shared it with them. It was at that point that they knew the stranger was the resurrected Christ.

And so then came the story we heard today.  The disciples (who had met Jesus in the breaking of the bread,) returned immediately to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples what had happened.  And again Jesus came among them.  And AGAIN they didn’t understand what was going on until Jesus opened their hearts and their minds (which helped a little, but apparently not much).  He then asked them for food and ate and shared some broiled fish and told them that the spirit would soon come among them to give them what they needed to witness to the good news of new life.

And hearing these stories and all that preceded them in the gospels, I often wonder how they managed, these disciples.  Even given all of their first hand experience with Jesus they were barely getting it, struggling at every turn.  And yet there was bread when they needed it.  There was fish when they were hungry.  Beyond the miracles which were obviously God’s doing, how did these disciples manage to hold it together as well as they did?  There were rooms in which to meet whenever they needed space to get together for study or for meals  They were able somehow to communicate with each other, had Scripture readings on hand when the needed them and apparently there was some sort of shared calendar that let them know where each other happened to be when they came back into or left town.

I’ve wondered this for a LONG time, but just week, I figured it out. Not only was God with the disciples, but the disciples managed because they must have had a fantastic church secretary.  Perhaps this is when Church Ladies first came to be.

Today we celebrate and thank Gail Westherhof, known fondly in this place as “Church Lady.”  Gail has served Grace for twenty-three years as secretary, administrator, building coordinator of sorts, and right-hand person for just about all of us in the many, many ministries that are Grace Church.  We’re saying “Thank You” all morning, and as we do this I want to make clear some of what we’re thankful for.

Over the past twenty-three years Gail has:

Unlocked and opened Grace’s doors approximately 4680 times. (And locked them at least a couple.)

She’s walked through 23 Advents, 23 Christmases, Epiphanies, Lents, Easters and Pentecosts with us – learning hymns and other fun Episcopalia along the way. It might not be well-known but should be that shortly after Gail arrived at Grace she bought a book titled, “Words of Our Worship: A Liturgical Dictionary,” compiled by Charles Mortimer Guilbert and published by The Church Hymnal Corporation  It runs from “Aaronic Benediction” to “Zuchetto” (a small skull cap worn by clerics.)  This dictionary and Gail’s use of it is why I know (among other things) that the wall behind me is called the “reredos.”  Thank you, Church Lady.

(And just FYI – this book has been officially, ceremonially handed down to Mary Miller, our new office person.)

Over 23 years, Gail has prepared 1586 service bulletins, put together 220 newsletters and brought in at least 2880 donuts to support the folding teams.  She filled in the data for 23 Parochial Reports for the Episcopal Church and collated 23 Annual Reports for Grace, Holland.

Gail unjammed the copier (of which their have been many over 23 years) about 1150 times, assuming an average of about one per week, which might be low, especially in the early years.

Gail transitioned Grace through the computerizing of the office and the many hardware, software and web updates since that first big step.  She answered the phones about 46,000 times and received at least 23,000 people through the office door.  (Some of them repeats.)

Gail prepared at least 552 mailings.  Which means she applied more stamps than I can possibly figure out. (Not a surprise to Gail, given my postal challenges.)

Gail carried infants and little kids out of the building during approximately 27 Grace Christian Child Care Center fire drills.  She also turned off the elevator alarm and called it in for repair at least 17 times.

Gail helped us relocate the office during floods and remodels and she hung in there just long enough to experience her first church property fire.  (Many of us fully expected flames to emerge every time that Gail was lighting the old ovens which she did approximately 57 times, but apparently, she and we have angels.)

Gail has trained and/or retrained about ten priests in all things church office, perhaps the hardest and most demanding pieces of her job.  And she welcomed about six puppies that one of those priests brought in along the way so that those little creatures could get to know church offices too.

Gail has sat in that central office and been the one who first picked up the phone or received that person who walked through the door because they needed to plan for a funeral at Grace, and she did that about 156 times. She also helped plan about 7 1 weddings, and 92 baptisms through which we welcomed new folks into the household of God.

And I could go on and on.  And you could too.

Which is why when I hear stories like this gospel story I picture an amazing church secretary behind it all, and maybe you all do too. Gail, Church Lady, we offer you our deepest thanks for supporting the ministries of Grace Church for twenty-three years.  And we thank you not only for the numbers behind those years, but for the personality, the humor, the love, the care.  We pray for blessings all around as you take these steps into the next phase of your life, and as you have very gracefully helped us prepare for us take ours.  We’re also glad that you’ll be around occasionally to help with some summer projects and a few other things too, and so this can be a ‘thank you’ without having to be a final ‘good bye’.

Now (to get on with things,) we have more meals to share, Church People!  More miracles to help happen because behind all of this there has been not only a wonderful secretary, but an incredibly loving God.

We have hearts and minds yet to open, ours included, Grace Church.  We have roads to travel, doors to unlock, and good news to proclaim!  We have hands and feet of the risen Christ to be and a Spirit to look forward to welcoming among us.  So, let’s, get to it.

Alleluia, Christ is risen!  The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!