Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Sermon: Funeral of Anne Rhodes

2 March 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 14:1-6 (Isa 46:3-4, 1 Cor 15:51-57)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Dear family, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, and honored guests. Peace be with you.

It was a joy to cross paths in life with Anne and with several members of her family. The Lord in His mercy brought Anne into the fellowship of this congregation and gave me the privilege to visit with her, to deliver the Gospel to her, to celebrate the Lord’s Supper with her, and to give her pastoral care in her time of struggle. And now her struggle is over. She has won the victory. She has finished the race. She has gone home to her merciful Father. Thanks be to God!

And yet we are left behind to continue in this valley of tears where we suffer many temptations in this life – even temptations that have good intentions. In our mourning and suffering, we sometimes seek comfort where it can’t be found. Sometimes with very good intentions, people will say that “death is a part of life” or “death is natural” or even that “death is a blessing.”

None of this is true.

Dear friends, death is a terrible thing. That is why we mourn. That’s why we miss our loved ones who pass away. Death is not a part of life, not natural, and not a blessing. Scripture teaches us that death is the wages of sin. Death is the penalty for the transgressions of our ancestors from Adam and Eve right down to babies born this very moment. We die because of sin – which we have inherited and which we have committed. And we’re all in this mess together. Our world is broken, and we are broken. And death is the worst expression of that brokenness. There is no good to it at all, dear friends.

For in the beginning, God created a perfect world free from sin. He declared it “good.” He created all living things to live forever, and He created mankind in His own image to manage all of this perfect creation. It was beautiful beyond what we can even imagine. But our ancestors rebelled against God, and so do we. We sin every day, every hour, every moment. We are surrounded and imbedded with sin.

And this is why we have funerals.

But, dear friends, God takes that which is bad, that which we deserve, and He uses it for good. God redeems us, He reclaims us, He recreates us, as His own dear children. God washes away our sins at Holy Baptism, forgives us by Holy Absolution, and restores us in the Holy Supper – even as He promises: “Listen to Me… even to your old age I am He, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.”

As awful as death is, our Heavenly Father is greater. As evil as death is, our Lord Jesus Christ rose from it to save us. As final as death seems, the Holy Spirit comes to us as the Lord and Giver of life, who calls us out of the perishable body of sin and death and resurrects our body imperishable, to new and everlasting life through forgiveness – all because of the cross of Christ. God could have simply given up on us, but instead He saves us. He became one of us, and He transforms us. That promise is for our dear sister in Christ, Anne, and it is for you who believe and grasp the promise, we who have the gift of faith in the Christ who died for us to save us.

Listen to the promise from the lips of our dear Savior Jesus Christ, our Lord and Redeemer Himself: “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?”

Dear brothers and sisters, what a joy to hear that Jesus has prepared a place for us. We are not destined to become spirits floating around in the clouds. No indeed! Spirits don’t have to live in a house with rooms. The Lord has promised that Anne’s body – though it has returned to the dust of our creation, will live again, as we confessed in the creed: “I believe in… the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” Just as our blessed Lord walked bodily out of His own tomb, so will Anne, so will all the saints, and so will each one of us who confesses Christ, having received the free and full gift of forgiveness and new life.

And this, dear friends, is of more comfort than any talk about death being natural. For what kind of a God would create us simply to die? No, our Creator has made us to live; He is the God of the living, and our Redeemer has defeated death, even as the Holy Spirit draws us to the one God who gives us life.

That is how even in our sorrow and grief, even as we miss Anne, our mother, our grandmother, our sister in Christ, our relative, and our friend, we can still proclaim with joy along with St. Paul and with Christians of every time and place: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” Anne is the victor! She has been adorned with Christ’s righteousness and crowned with eternal life. She bears the sign of Christ’s cross by virtue of her baptism, and she lays hold of the resurrection by virtue of the unbreakable and sure Word and promise of the living God.

Dear friends, we miss Anne. We grieve for ourselves and our loss. Though death is not natural, our mourning is. Healing will take time, and it won’t be complete until we are all reunited in eternity. And so we grieve, but not as the unbelievers. For we have hope. We have cause for joy. We have the promise! We know that death has been defeated at the cross by our Lord, who has risen to give us His righteousness and His life and a free and gracious gift.

And we pray with St. Paul, with the entire Church triumphant, and yes even with Anne herself, who now sees Christ face to face in glory unveiled and beauty unlimited, as we pray together: “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ,” now and forever! Amen.

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

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