A Service of Witness to the Resurrection for Benjamin “Ben” Ebersole (1929-2021) & Shirley Ebersole (1931-2020)
July 2, 2021
From A Service of Witness to the Resurrection
Benjamin “Ben” Ebersole (1929-2021) & Shirley Ebersole (1931-2020)
July 2, 2021
Rev. Kenneth E. Kovacs, Ph.D.
Catonsville Presbyterian Church, Catonsville, MD
We’re here today to remember and to give thanks to God for not one life but two, two long remarkable lives, two lives that moved together as if one, like a double helix, lives interwoven. We are here to honor two lives and the life and family that they formed together. Ben and Shirley. It’s been said, “The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.” And the transformation of these personalities yields in the transformation of others. Inseparable for so much of their lives, and now, remarkably, even in death. Together they shared a life, built a life, offered their lives – to family, friends, neighbors, society, this community of faith – worked to transform a world.
But we are also honoring two, distinct, unique lives, each with their own personality, their own passions, interests, viewpoints, beliefs, their own stories, stories that made them unique. To remember two lives in this way, to have one memorial service remembering two people, husband and wife…this is rare. It’s a first for me in thirty years of ministry. It’s perhaps a first for the church. In the planning of the service today, the family was intentional about reflecting the spirits of both Ben and Shirley, together and in their respective particularities.
Ben and Shirley first joined Catonsville Presbyterian Church in 1964 and were active members. They were both ordained leaders of the church. Because ordination in the Presbyterian Church is not to status but to service, to a particular task, they both served. They both loved this church. They took enormous delight in the people of this church. Serving together, laughing together, loving one another. Shirley was a member of Presbyterian Women, served as a deacon and ruling elder. Ben was also a ruling elder, a youth group leader, and advocate for social justice. Ben often attended adult education hour before worship, where we often engaged in theological conversations. I remember early on in my time here, twenty-one years ago, if the word “salvation” was ever mentioned in the sermon, Ben was always curious to know what I meant by it, how I viewed it, how the Bible understood it. The same was true regarding the meaning of baptism and the centrality of baptism in the Christian life.
Ben and Shirley. Together, they each carried their own spirit. Our relationships shape us, even define us, especially a long and fruitful marriage. But we are also more than our relationships. In healthy relationships and marriages, the individuality of each partner is cherished, preserved, and each is mutually enhanced, not absorbed into the other.
Kahlil Gibran’s marvelous poem “On Marriage,” came to mind thinking about today. It’s often read at weddings but takes on a different meaning in this context. Gibran says:
You shall be together when the white
wings of death scatter your days.
Ay, you shall be together even in the
silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance
Love one another, but make not a bond of love:…
Give your hearts, but not into each
For only the hand of Life can contain
And stand together yet not too near
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow
not in each other’s shadow.
Today, we remember and give thanks to God for these two pillars, Ben and Shirley, and the “temple” that they built together. Here in the holy place, we remember and acknowledge the “hand of Life” that contained and now fully contains their lives. Gibran, who was a Christian, capitalizes “Life” in the poem, which is his way to refer to God, the source of life, of all life. Our lives are not our own. We do not belong to ourselves. As the apostle Paul said, “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8). Life is granted by the will of another. We are not the source. We are not our own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to a savior is who is always faithful to us. And so we place their lives, individually and together, into the larger Life of God, the God who created us, called us, and gives us a calling. A calling…
Shirley and Ben, as educators, as teachers, knew the power of education to form and transform human life, they forged a family of educators, and were surrounded by an extended family and friends of educators. I was thinking about the meaning of the word “education” this week. It’s derived from three Latin words Educare, meaning “to nourish, to bring up;” Educere, meaning to “call out, to draw out, to lead out;” and Educatum, which refers to teaching, training. Together, they describe how a teacher relates to a student, how a teacher engages in the art of teaching. But as every good teacher knows, in their heart of hearts they’re always students, always learning, always open to new learnings, discoveries, new teachings. Good teachers can probably point to and trace one’s love for teaching to when, as students, they had a teacher who nurtured and called out, drew out something deep within them that they didn’t know was there. Not unlike Jesus’ relationship with his students, his disciples, who called him rabbi, teacher. Not unlike the Lord’s relationship to us.
Today, we give thanks that Jesus the Teacher called out to Ben and Shirley throughout their lives, nurtured and brought them up and called out to them, who then, in return drew out the best in so many. Today, we give thanks that the Teacher called them one last time, drew them out, led them home, deep and safe forever into the hand of Life that contains all our hearts. Amen.
 C. G. Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul (New York: Harcourt, 1933/1955).
 Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet (New York: Knopf, 1923).