Eulogy – Dorothy Jean Gooch – Nov. 25, 2009
Dorothy Jean Gooch was 83 years old when she fell asleep in Christ on Sunday, November 22, 2009. She was a dearly-loved and longtime member of the Highland Church of Christ and served as a secretary there for 18 years. Dorothy Jean was a dedicated supporter of Harding Academy. But above her connection to Highland and Harding towered her connection to family. Dorothy Jean was married for 66 years to Burton. They have a son, Jerry Burton Gooch of Memphis (married to Carol); a daughter, Priscilla Jean Speck of Nashville (married to Stephen); six grandchildren: Randy Speck, Travis Speck, Meredith Speck Clayton, Burton Gooch, Courtney Gooch Davis, and Lauren Gooch Crabtree, and six great-grandchildren.
This morning many images about Dorothy Jean fill our minds. My mind floods with the memory of a table. Meals and tables have long been important in God’s Story. John Mark Hicks in his book Come to the Table (Leafwood, 2008) reminds us that meals and tables were instrumental in the Old Testament (for example, the annual festivals at which the Israelites ate with one another and with God) and in the New Testament (for example, the communion table around which Dorothy Jean and Burton gathered every Sunday). In both ancient Israel and the early church, meals and tables were places where people connected with one another and with God. They were, in the words of the ancient Celts, “thin places” – places “where the veil between heaven and earth…is worn thin.” (Krista Tippett Speaking of Faith (Penguin, 2008), 110). Tables and meals were places at which heaven and earth touched.
And as I drove to the Gooch’s home on Monday morning, having just received the news of Dorothy Jean’s passing, I remembered the evening when she first invited my wife Kendra and me to her table for a home-cooked meal. We were new then to Memphis. I was a graduate student and an intern at Highland. And Dorothy Jean reached out to us and fed us in her home. To us, her table was a thin place – a place where we experienced the hospitality of God.
When I returned home on Monday night and talked with Kendra, Kendra also had memories of meals and tables. She recalled those times when the Highland leaders would gather in someone’s home, we’d eat potluck – often digging into something Dorothy Jean had prepared – and then we’d participate in the infamous “go-around.” Every person had to share something positive and negative which had happened in his/her life since our last gathering. Kendra and I remembered with a smile how much Dorothy Jean hated those go-arounds. When the meal was over and we sat down in that circle, Dorothy Jean would throw her hands up and say, “We better not be doing a go-around.” But then she’d wind up sharing something profound. Dorothy Jean’s faith-filled sincerity always made those dinners a thin place.
On Monday morning I sat at Dorothy Jean’s table, listening as Burton, Jerry, and “Cilla” shared. “What’s the most important thing that ought to be said about Dorothy Jean?” I asked. They said, “She was committed to her family.”
“She was always pushing herself to help others.”
“She loved the church family.”
“She loved to study the Bible.” We looked at her Bible – all marked up, sentences underlined, words written in the margins. It was laying right there on the table.
But our conversation quickly turned to a moment eight days earlier. Because of the wedding of Clay Midyett, Dorothy Jean and Burton’s family was in town. And since they knew that “Cilla” and Stephen would be travelling during Thanksgiving, they decided to celebrate an early Thanksgiving meal that Sunday. Dorothy Jean hosted a feast for everyone. “She was in her element,” Jerry and “Cilla” said. I’m guessing almost every thread of Dorothy Jean’s life came together at that meal – love for family, love for serving, and love for God. That last Thanksgiving meal at that table was probably among the thinnest of places, a time when heaven and earth kissed.
Famous preacher Thomas Long writes that one of the most important elements in a Christian funeral is for us to honor the deceased as “…a prism through whom we have seen refracted the grace of God.” (Thomas Long Accompany Them With Singing (Westminster John Knox, 2009), 124). Dorothy Jean is indeed one of those through whom the grace of God refracted with just a little more brightness, just a little more color than most. And so it often shined at the table.
Today I think Dorothy Jean would have us think of a table—the table of God. Isaiah prophesied of a time when God would “prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples” and at this banquet God would “swallow up death forever.” (Is. 25:6-8). For Isaiah, life with God would be an eternity of feasting at the LORD’s table and never again fearing that death might interrupt the fellowship.
It was this scene which Jesus imagined when he described how the kingdom of God was like a man who prepared “a great banquet and invited many guests” and then he sent his servants out “into the streets and alleys of the town to bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.” (Lk. 14:16-24). For Jesus, life would at last be all about eating at the welcoming table of God.
And it was this table John envisioned when he wrote in the final chapters of Scripture about “the wedding supper of the Lamb!” which would be an occasion of great joy (Rev. 19:9).
That’s the table where Dorothy Jean now sits. Although, knowing Dorothy Jean, she’s probably already gotten up and tried to show those heavenly cooks a thing or two. She’s probably already set a placemat for Burton, for Jerry and “Cilla,” for all the family, and for all her friends. And just as Jerry told me there were days in college when he couldn’t wait to come home because he knew Dorothy Jean would have something special at the table, so we too just can’t wait to finally be home with Dorothy and with others, eating, laughing, and loving once again at the table of God.