Thursday, June 05, 2008

Sermon: Funeral of Barbara Trauth

5 June 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Luke 14:15-24 (Prov 9:1-10, 1 John 3:13-18)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

When a person lives to be more than ninety years old, we are tempted to use this fact as a way to make death seem like it’s not so bad. We all know it is terrible for children to die, and we understand the shock of a person cut down in the prime of life. But when the person has lived a long life, we sometimes mistakenly try to use that as a source of comfort.

But, dear friends and family, especially George, you know that the fact that Barbara lived to be 93 years old is of no comfort in the face of her death. Death is not our friend, it is the enemy. But it is an enemy that has been defeated.

And this is the only reason that we can take comfort. Death has been destroyed, and only because our Lord Jesus Christ has conquered death can we say with St. Paul: “O death, where is your sting?”

For Barbara is now seated at the banquet table. Gone is her suffering. No more is her discomfort. The aches and pains of age are non-existent. She is in the presence of the Lord, His saints, and the angels. And this is not thanks to her death, but rather in spite of it.

Barbara was long ago invited to the banquet – when as a little child, water was poured on her head in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit – right there in that font. In her baptism, she was not only given an invitation, but also a promise. And nothing can get in the way of that promise, not even death. And that promise was repeated again and again as Barbara came to the Lord’s table. The Lord Himself invited her: “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.” And Barbara did not reject our Lord’s gracious offer, rather she partook of it – week in and week out, year after year, even to the final days of her life in this fallen world. Unlike the examples in our Gospel of our Lord’s parable of the men who put their property, their businesses, and even their families ahead of the promises of God in His Gospel, Barbara didn’t make excuses. She hungered and thirsted for righteousness, and was always so grateful when I came to see her with my communion kit.

For she knew that these visits were not just friendly calls from a guy who works for the church. She understood full well the implication of a pastor bringing the Word of God, the Good News of the forgiveness of sins, the sign of the cross in remembrance of baptism, and the very body and blood of Jesus. She was being invited to the eternal banquet, and she was always eager to partake of the foretaste of that eternal feast.

And no matter what changes came in her more than nine decades of life, Barbara understood what was important, what did not change, and what the Word of God infallibly teaches: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”

And though Barbara’s intellect remained sharp, though her conversational skills continued to be formidable, and though her integrity and her devotion to her family – especially her dear husband – were all apparent, she was wise enough not to put trust in such things. Over and over, Barbara repeated the ancient words of the liturgy: “I, a poor miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities...” For it isn’t wisdom, knowledge, or even integrity that drives a person to take the Holy Supper, but rather confession, acknowledgment of our sinful state, the realization that we must give an account of our lives, and ultimately, that we are condemned to death by our sins.

Barbara knew this right to the end – which is why she joyfully took the body and blood of the Lord in the final few days of her life on this side of the grave.

And as St. John describes the Christian life in our Epistle, Barbara has “passed from death to life.” Because Jesus has defeated the enemy, Barbara is more than a conqueror. She stands victorious among that “great cloud of witnesses,” they who have “washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb.” And for the time being, we must carry the cross of pain and separation – for Barbara does not. George, the Lord has given you the greater cross, of mourning your dear wife. But you can mourn knowing that she does not. For in the joy of God’s fulfilled promises, she waits for all of us to join her in the great banquet that has no end.

George, it is in the mysterious meal, the Holy Supper of the Mass, that you will again and again be present with your dear Barbara until the day the Lord calls you home. For Jesus is present in the sacrament. And Barbara is there with Jesus. Every time we partake in Holy Communion, we are joined to the communion of saints. Every time we partake of the Lord’s Supper, we are taking our place at the same table as Barbara by invitation of our Lord.

This is the same invitation issued to Barbara at her baptism, the same invitation she answered with her “Amen” as the host was put on her tongue and as the chalice was placed upon her lips.

And though our eyes see a tongue silenced and lips stilled, through the eyes of faith, we see Barbara in glory, singing to God in the words of the hymn with “lips to sing Thy glory, Tongues Thy mercy to proclaim, Throats that shout the hope that fills us, Mouths to speak Thy holy name.”

And in the words of another hymn, Barbara can sing with Job from the Old Testament, and with us in the New Testament: “I know that my Redeemer lives; What comfort this sweet sentence gives!”

For our comfort lies not in Barbara’s long life, in her intellect, in her devotion to family, nor even in the way she touched so many lives. For, as Barbara knew full well, none of that matters. What matters, what comforts us and what has saved her from the ravages of death and the devil, is the fact that our Redeemer lives! For because He lives, she lives. Because His tomb is empty, so shall hers be, and so shall ours. Because He has conquered death, so has Barbara, and so shall we, dear brothers and sisters.

For indeed, death is the enemy. But it is a defeated foe. “By this, we know love, because he laid down His life for us.” “Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God” – world without end. Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

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