Text: John 10:10b-15, 27-30 (Ps 123, 1 Cor 15:51-57)
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
Dear Calvin and Zoe, family members, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, and honored guests, “Peace be with you!”
Today is indeed a bittersweet day, a day in which we feel the sting of death, a day of mourning and of loss. But it I also a day of victory over death, of happy memories, of the triumph of the entry of one of the Lord’s beloved saints into eternal rest. It is a day of two opposite extremes.
For even as we mourn, Elodie enjoys the eternal reward won for all of the Lord’s redeemed by our Lord Himself at the cross. For Elodie, like all of us in this fallen world, knew the sting of battle. But in eternity, she knows perfect and genuine peace.
This is the paradox of the Christian life.
We live in a world of evil, of sadness and sickness and death. We live in a world of disease and pain and the struggles of old age. We live in a world of conflict and bullying and aggression. We live in the world we have degraded by our sinfulness and lovelessness.
The Psalmist knew of the brutality of the human condition in this corrupted world. He prayed: “Have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt. Our soul has had more than enough of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud.”
This broken, fallen, corrupted world is why we have lawyers (to protect victims) and pastors (to forgive the penitent). In this world, pastors need lawyers and lawyers need pastors. In eternity, there will be no need for either. But thanks be to God that we limp along together in this life, plying our vocations to take care of one another out of love – love for one another, love for God, and love for that which is just and right and holy.
Like all of us, our dear sister in Christ Elodie knew about contempt, about jealousy, about treachery. She excelled in her studies and advanced to great heights in the academy and in the field of Chemistry – and did so in a day and age when this was rare for a woman. She suffered the sting of death upon the loss of her dear husband. Even late in life, Elodie was not exempt from grievous heartache and unspeakable suffering.
And at the end of her life, she was rendered weak and frail, bereft of the vivaciousness and vigor that characterized her long life. Such are the ravages of this fallen existence.
In her weakness, I prayed with Elodie: “Lord, let at last thine angels come, to Abram’s bosom, bear me home, that I may die unfearing.” And on this day, we pray not for Elodie, but with her. Today is the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel and all angels. And far from the chubby children and effeminate creatures depicted in a lot of art, the angels described in the Bible are fierce warriors, soldiers bearing the sword of the Lord, avenging evil and defending us from harm – physical and spiritual. St. Michael is often portrayed with a breastplate and broadsword, slaying the “old evil foe” who “now means deadly woe.” These heavily armed angelic “watchers” and “holy ones” do the Lord’s work, and they indeed did their work to bear Elodie home to her Lord, to her Savior, to her Redeemer, to her God.
And though I am no fierce archangel, I too had the privilege to bear the sword in defense of Elodie – the sword of the Word of God, to be an instrument to protect this blessed lady in her time of weakness and frailty. Indeed, as St. Paul teaches us, when we are weak, we are strong – for when we are weak, we do not depend on ourselves, but rather on Him who strengthens us!
For pastors and angels and archangels only serve the Lord, whereas the Lord Jesus is God in the flesh. He is the Good Shepherd who “lays down His life for the sheep.” He is no hired hand who flees during times of trouble, but is rather the “Good Shepherd” who stays and fights and proclaims: “I know My own and My own know Me.” I read this passage to Elodie in her suffering. For He who suffered for us strengthens us by His Word, His promise, His very presence.
He says: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”
This is the victory that we have – even in death, dear friends! Even in death! For Elodie has fought the good fight and finished the race. She was given the victor’s crown. Early in her life, a pastor placed the sign of the cross on her forehead in remembrance of the baptism that saved her, through which the Lord Jesus credited her with His work on the cross. And very late in her life, I repeated this action, the sign of the cross on her forehead in remembrance of the baptism that saved her, through which the Lord Jesus reminds all of us that He has claimed us, branded us as His sheep, marked us with the holy cross, fed us by the word and watered us by the sacraments. Our Good Shepherd has defeated the wolf who attacks, and our Good Shepherd leads us safely to green pastures and still waters.
The Lord still provides His angels – as well as human helpers – like lawyers and pastors – to guide and protect His people from evil.
For we are not immune from evil. We sin much daily in thought, word, and deed. Elodie was a sinner, as is everyone here today, as is everyone on the planet. We need God’s forgiveness and His grace. This is why the Psalmist prays “Have mercy upon us, O Lord.” This is why our Lord went to the cross. This is why we are baptized, why we confess our sins, why we receive the Holy Sacraments, and why we rejoice to hear the words of the Gospel. And when our day of death comes, in Christ we can rejoice with St. Paul, saying: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting.”
“For this perishable body” says St. Paul in the Holy Scriptures, “must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.”
Dear friends, this is the central mystery of the Christian faith. For “the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Today is indeed a bittersweet day – bitter for us as we must endure (at least for a time) the sting of death. But it is a sweet day, a day in which death has been defeated: at the cross, at the baptismal font, at the communion rail, and in the Word of God. Elodie has conquered death because Christ has conquered death!
This is why the angels, the “watchers” and “holy ones… raise the glad strain: ‘Alleluia!’” This is why the “bearer of the eternal Word most gracious” magnifies the Lord. This is why the “souls in endless rest” join with the Twelve, the martyrs, and all the saints triumphant – including Blessed Elodie – to sing the heavenly “Alleluia!”
Oh, what their joy and their glory must be,
Those endless Sabbaths the blessed ones see!
Crowns for the valiant, to weary ones rest;
God shall be all, and in all ever blest.
In New Jerusalem joy shall be found,
Blessings of peace shall forever abound;
Wish and fulfillment are not severed there,
Nor the things prayed for come short of the prayer.
Peace be with you! Amen.
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In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.