|Feb 6, 2014 - our birthday: my 50th and Bertha's 97th|
23 February 2014
Text: Luke 2:25-32 (Job 19:23-27a, Heb 12:1-2)
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
Dear Don and Jackie, grandchildren and great grandchildren, family members, friends, honored guests, brothers and sisters in Christ, peace be with you!
When someone lives a full life of nearly a century, there is much to reflect upon regarding that person’s life and the profound impact they have had on the lives of those around them. Our dear sister in Christ Bertha was born as the First World War raged, the Model T was less than a decade old, and the first movie with sound was still a decade away.
We have mixed thoughts about saying goodbye to someone of such a long life and influence. On the one hand, we know that death on this side of the grave is inevitable, but on the other, very few people that we know ever knew a time when Bertha was not yet born.
She grew up in an era when motherhood was respected by society. She took her holy vocation as wife and mother seriously. Her children always came first. And even though she couldn’t drive, and for a time was unable to bring her children to church, she purchased Lutheran Sunday School materials and taught her children the holy faith from home.
We Lutherans are taught to revere the saints. We love them and follow their examples. Bertha is such a saint and a hero to those of us left on this side of the veil.
But there is also a temptation when someone lives such a long life, dear friends. And that temptation is to see death as natural, as a kind of friend. And while we are grateful that Bertha did not suffer, and while we are blessed to know that the last earthly meal she ate was the Lord’s Supper – and how magnificent is that, dear friends? But we don’t delude ourselves into thinking of death as anything other than it is: a tragic consequence of sin and of the fall in the Garden of Eden. We mourn because of death. Jesus wept for His friend Lazarus, even as He raised him from the dead. We miss our loved ones, whether they die at seven or at ninety-seven.
Death is not God’s will; it is painful; it is not our friend; it is not natural. And yet, for us poor miserable sinners, it is inevitable.
And this is why we are here, dear friends, in a church, a holy sanctuary where the Word of God is proclaimed in the face of death, where the Gospel is proclaimed in spite of the devil, and where the sacraments are administered unto the forgiveness of sin. The old evil foe has no power in this place, dear friends! This is where the altar, the font, and the pulpit sustain us and restore us to the innocence we lost when our first parents ate unto their judgment. For here, dear friends, we eat unto our salvation! Here, dear friends, in this very font, the little baby Bertha was baptized and redeemed by her Savior. Her sins were forgiven. She was redeemed by the Lord Jesus Christ.
As Job confessed, so Bertha confesses, and so we confess: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.
This is the glorious news Bertha heard from the day of her baptism while soldiers waged war on horseback in Europe, right up until the very end of her life on this earth less than a week ago. And as we confessed it yet again in the creed: “I believe in… the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” We do not believe as Pagans do in floating disembodied spirits or that people become angels with wings. No, dear friends, we have the promise of the bodily resurrection, just as surely as our blessed Lord called Lazarus out of his grave, and just as surely as our Lord Himself walked out of His own tomb in the flesh: “Yet in my flesh I shall see God.” We have a glorious reunion to look forward to, dear brothers and sisters, with our human bodies made perfect, bodies that will not wear out, bodies that will not die.
This is how the author of the letter to the Hebrews can exhort us: “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, every sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
St. Paul also compares the Christian life to a race. It is more of a marathon than a sprint. And, dear friends, to those who endure, there is a crown, an imperishable reward to those who cross the finish line signed by the cross, washed by Holy Baptism, and covered with Christ’s atoning blood. For ultimately, the prize is won for us by Jesus, our Redeemer, who indefatigably defeated death and triumphantly won life for us, giving this crown to us by grace, through faith, and by means of the Word declared to us.
Our sister Bertha has completed the race. She has fought the good fight. Jesus has triumphed for her. And not even the vile devil and his great weapon death have any power over her, dear friends!
And just as the scriptures teach us about another elderly saint, St. Simeon, the faithful temple priest who held true to the promise of the Redeemer, who held the Christ child in his arms, it was always my privilege to pray together with Bertha after partaking of the Holy Sacrament together, Simeon’s song:
“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”
Blessed Bertha’s life on this side of the grave has been completed in victory, dear friends, because of this same Christ seen by the aged eyes of Simeon, partaken sacramentally by Bertha for nearly a century, and confessed by her and by the whole Christian Church on earth since the days of the apostles.
And so we carry on in our walk with Christ, bridging the gap of our current century to those whose lives we impact by our life and confession. Let us join our dear sister in Christ in that great cloud of witnesses to the cross and resurrection of our blessed Lord, to the Good News of eternal life that we have the privilege to confess just as Bertha did for 97 years in Christ. And let us look forward in joy, hope, peace, and expectation of the resurrection to come that is ours in Christ Jesus.
“For I know that my Redeemer lives,” now and even unto eternity. Amen.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.