Monday, March 02, 2009

Sermon: Funeral of Helen Chiasson

2 March 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 14:1-6 (Ps 121, 1 Cor 12:31b-13:13)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Dear Lloyd, Lloyd, Shannon, Marnie, Cassidy, Henry, Audrey, family, friends, and brothers and sisters in Christ: grace mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

We knew today was coming, and yet that provides little comfort. Our dear sister in Christ Helen knew she was dying, and so did all of us. We all shared her last few months of life with her on this side of the grave knowing that each day was a gift from God – and yet we still grieve the loss of our wife, mother, mother-in-law, grandmother, sister, and dear friend.

And though the temptation is for us to minimize our grief by rationalizing away death as some kind of a friend, as some natural or God-pleasing phase in our existence – Holy Scripture teaches us that nothing could be further from the truth. For the truth is that our Father and Maker did not create us to die – and especially not after a long illness. Death is not natural, and it is certainly not our friend.

Death is the wages of sin – our own sins, as well as the sin we have inherited from our ancestors who rebelled in the Garden of Eden. Death is the consequence of this flaw in which all of us hold a share. And yet, death does not have the last word.

For our Father allowed another death to come into the world – a completely unjust death that justifies us – including Helen: the death of our Blessed Lord on the cross. This is how it is that the Psalmist can proclaim: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” For it isn’t death that is precious – it most certainly isn’t – but rather the fact that death does not conquer the saint, but the other way around. What is precious to God is the victory His dear children have over death because His dear Son conquered death by death.

And this is confirmed by the resurrection.

A passage in which Helen took great comfort is St. John’s quotation from our Blessed Lord: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”

This preparation and the fact that even in death we have a place in the Lord’s kingdom is how our Lord can say to us even now: “Let not your hearts be troubled.” For Helen was prepared, and the Lord has prepared a place for her. She was created according to the Lord’s plan for her. She was born not once, but twice, having been born again by water and the Spirit in this very font more than eighty years ago. She not only lived a full and rich life according to the flesh, but also in the spirit. She shared a long life of love with her family, and enjoyed intimate communion with her Lord Jesus in His body and blood for some seven decades since her first Holy Communion right here at Salem.

For the Lord’s love for Helen was such that He willingly sacrificed Himself to redeem her from her sins, and to give her everlasting life over and against her own mortality – through the gracious waters of Holy Baptism, as well as through His body and blood, born of Mary, sacrificed at the cross, and truly offered as food and drink in the Lord’s Supper.

St. Paul’s famous passage on love is often read at weddings, less often at funerals. But in this case, it is fitting that we be reminded that love – especially married love – is a picture of Christ’s love for His bride, the Church. Lloyd and Helen’s love for one another has been apparent to me as I have had the privilege to minister to them over these past few months. Sixty-three years did not diminish their affection and devotion, but in fact added to it. Helen’s intense love for Lloyd beamed from her face, even when she became too weak to speak it out loud. Lloyd’s selfless and tender devotion and dedication to his beloved bride knew no sacrifice too dear for her honor and her comfort.

And, Lloyd, I am humbled and privileged that I was able to bring the Lord Jesus to you and Helen in His body and blood and in His Word these past few months. Any blessing that I have been to you has been as a simple messenger of Christ. But you and Helen have been a far greater blessing to me as living icons of not only married life, but of the intense and selfless love our Lord has for us: His people, His Church, His own dear bride.

For you brought Christ to me as well: Christ in suffering. Christ in service. Christ in love.

And what more beautiful picture do we have of this kind of holy love than this: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends”?

For though all of us walk in the valley of the shadow of death, we need not fear anything, not even death itself. The Lord is with us. And as the Psalmist proclaims in the very text Helen herself wanted read today:
“My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber…. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand…. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.”
Indeed, we grieve the loss of our dear Helen. We miss her. We will always miss her on this side of the grave. And yet we do not grieve as those who have no hope. We have the promises of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Victor over death and the grave, the One into whose name Helen was baptized, and whose name she confessed all the days of her life. We have the hope and the promise of being reunited with her at the resurrection, in our heavenly home, in the mansions prepared for us, in the newly-created universe promised to us by our Lord Jesus, who overcame sin and death to replace it with righteousness and life.

For hear anew the Gospel, that is the Good News, from the Apostle our Lord loved:
“‘And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”
This is the promise of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the faith which Helen confessed. This is the creed which the Church proclaims. This the hope to which we Christians cling – now and unto eternity. Amen.

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

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