Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Sermon: Funeral of Bernice Adams

4 June 2008 at Mothe Funeral Home, Harvey, LA
Text: Luke 14:15-24 (Prov 9:1-10, 1 John 3:13-18)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Dear friends, peace be with you. It is my hope and my prayer that the same consolation the Word of God always was to our dear sister in Christ, Bernice Adams, will comfort you in your time of distress and sorrow.

For although the words of our Lord in our Gospel reading are a stern warning, and though our Lord’s parable teaches about the fate of those who abandon the church – these are sweet words of comfort today in this place. For Bernice is not among those whom the Lord promises: “None of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.”

No indeed. Bernice is not only a guest at the table, she now enjoys the eternal feast. Bernice has not only been reunited with her beloved husband Ernest, she is now physically in the presence of our Lord, the saints, the angels, and the glories of life without sin, without suffering, without sickness, and without death.

Indeed, we are the ones who deserve pity, not Bernice. For she, in the words of the holy apostle St. John, has “passed from death to life.”

And though Bernice was a loyal member of the church, a beloved mother and wife, a kindhearted woman – none of these things have caused her to pass from death to life. For it is the Lord Himself who issues the invitation. It is the Lord Himself who “cries out from the highest places of the city: “Come, eat of my bread. And drink of the wine I have mixed.” It is by His grace that Bernice was baptized by water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. It is only through the gift of the faith given to her in baptism that Bernice was invited to partake again and again of the banquet.

Bernice and Ernest were always at the Lord’s table, receiving the bread of the Lord’s body and the wine of the Lord’s blood from my hands and the hands of pastors who came before me. They were fixtures at the Wednesday night services, pleading again and again for forgiveness, a forgiveness announced and declared again and again by their pastors who spoke the words of absolution by Christ’s authority.

Bernice and Ernest did not spurn the Lord’s gifts, but rather received them. They did not make excuses for not taking a place at the table, but rather knelt before the Lord each week to receive His gift of everlasting life. And even when Bernice became too ill to remain at home, even when her mind began to dim, even when she could no longer make it on Wednesday nights, this dear saintly woman continued to hunger and thirst for righteousness, continued to receive the holy sacrament and to hear the Word of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ again and again. She made no excuses. She continued to believe. She clung to Christ and trusted in Him alone for salvation.

Excuses are easy. Suffering under the cross is hard. Falling out of the habit of worship is easy. Our Lord dying for us, for our salvation, conquering Satan and the grave were all hard. And yet for us, the yoke is easy. The heavy lifting has been done for us. Our Lord simply asks that we believe and receive the gifts he won for us by His blood. For those gifts are what Bernice enjoys now: eternal life, salvation, and a joy that will never end.

Our salvation, dear friends, doesn’t come from simply saying we believe in God. Even the devil believes in God. Our salvation doesn’t come because we’re such good people – because we are all sinners – Bernice used to say it every Wednesday: “I, a poor, miserable sinner confess unto You all my sins and iniquities…” Our salvation doesn’t even come as some kind of reward for doing our part and going to church – for if we helped to earn our salvation, it would be a paycheck and not a gift – and besides, Scripture tells us that nobody has that kind of clout with God – nobody except His Son, that is.

Our salvation comes rather because God is merciful to us, though we don’t deserve it. He loves us and redeems us with the blood of His only begotten Son. And we grasp this gift by faith, not by the intellect.

Some may even be tempted to question this dear women’s faith because she suffered from confusion and memory loss. But listen again to Holy Scripture: “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Being invited to the table has nothing to do with knowing what day of the week it is, being able to remember where you are, or even continuing to be able to recite the questions and answers of the catechism. Rather, understanding is to have knowledge of the Holy One, to fear, love, and trust in the one true God above all things, to hunger and thirst after righteousness, knowing that we ourselves are sinful.

For even as Bernice’s mind slipped as she aged, as the terrible Alzheimer’s robbed her of her memories, this is a woman who said: “Amen” when I placed the body and blood of the Lord into her mouth, as she was invited again and again to the table. Bernice never gave one excuse for not coming to the table. She never refused the sacrament when I came to see her – not even once – even when she was tired, distressed, or confused. No matter what, she always received the Lord’s Supper with faith, with joy, and with gladness – a little foretaste of the feast she now enjoys.

And what comfort this is to us, dear friends! Whatever afflictions Bernice suffered in this fallen world are no more. Every pain and burden has been removed.

God, in His mercy, provides us with saints, Christians who “in glory shine,” whose lives serve as examples, people whose steadfastness in the faith serve as inspirations to the rest of us who “feebly struggle.” This saintly woman Bernice, who continued to receive the gifts of God, who never stopped her communion with her Lord even to the very end of her sojourn in this life, has taught all of us the value of that glorious invitation to receive the Lord’s gifts: forgiveness, life, and salvation; the Gospel preached, the Word proclaimed, the Holy Supper eaten and drunk; sins forgiven, and death conquered by Him whose empty tomb and glorious resurrection has led Bernice and all the saints into everlasting life and glory.

Thanks be to God, now and forever! Amen.

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

1 comment:

Thursday's Child said...

Bernice sounds like a truly wonderful woman. May I have half the faith she did.