17 September 2015 at Mothe's Funeral Home, Harvey, LA
Text: Luke 2:25-32 (Isa 46:3-4, 1 Cor 15:51-57)
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
Dear Toni and Michael, (Christy), grandchildren, great-grandchildren, Ann, family members, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, and honored guests: peace be with you!
One of the parts of the Church’s liturgy, a passage from the Bible that we will repeat at the end of this service, as well as the text of our Gospel reading, involves the elderly saint Simeon. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die until he had encountered Jesus. And when he had that encounter, he spoke these words:
“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.”
Nearly every time that I visited Betty over the many years that I had the privilege to be her pastor, every time we took the Holy Sacrament together, we prayed these very words of St. Simeon together.
These words are true for Betty today, dear friends.
For her eyes have seen the salvation that the Lord had prepared for all peoples. Betty was baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. She was absolved of her sins many times in her eight decades of life. She received the Lord’s body and blood again and again, experiencing Jesus in the flesh just as surely as our dear brother Simeon did on that glorious day in the Temple cradling the baby Jesus just as surely as Betty cradled her own children, grandchildren, great-grand-children, god-children, and other children.
And like St. Simeon, she was ready to depart in peace, to depart this fallen world to meet with her Lord and God, to await the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
And that is indeed why we were created, dear friends, to live forever.
We might be tempted to see death as a kind of ally, a kind of blessing to someone who was suffering. We might be tempted to see it as something normal for someone who is elderly. But although we have come to accept death as something that happens, it is not normal. It’s not even fair to call it natural. It isn’t. God created us to live forever.
It is our sinful flesh that has brought about death: Betty’s, yours, and mine. We inherited our sinful flesh from our ancestors, and death is the result of our sinfulness as well. And there is nobody who is perfect, nobody who is righteous, nobody, not one person, who does not need the salvation of Jesus Christ, the Savior, whose life becomes our life by faith.
Betty confessed this. Betty lived this. It is in this faith that she took Holy Communion from me over the many years. It is why her parents brought her to the baptismal font so that she could be reborn. For in that encounter with Jesus, she became ready to “depart in peace.”
And though death is not normal or natural (God did not make us to die), though death is terrible (which is why we mourn), and though death is the enemy (it is the wages of sin as Scripture teaches us), it has been defeated by our Lord at the cross. He died to defeat death, and to give us life. And He rose from the dead to prove it.
And this is why even when we mourn, even in our sadness, even when we do not want to say goodbye, we can say defiantly with St. Paul, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” And we declare with him: “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
And so, we claim victory, even now, dear friends. It is Betty’s victory, because it is Christ’s victory. We Christians are the victors over sin, death, and the devil; we are victors in Christ. And this is our sure and certain hope, and Betty’s sure and certain hope: to rise again in the flesh and be reunited in bodies made new and incorruptible.
One thing that Betty always said when I visited her was how much she loved her children and grandchildren. This was her favorite topic in the world. And that love continues, dear brothers and sisters, for Christ has won the victory. By the promises of our risen Lord, we too will rise triumphant from the grave, and we too will meet her again, “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.”
And in Christ, and according to His ever-reliable Word and promise, we look forward to that great and marvelous day. Meanwhile, it is normal to mourn. Mourning is the pain of separation. But that separation is temporary, dear friends.
We Christians all around the world greet one another with the word “Peace.” It is the old Hebrew word “Shalom” with which our Lord greeted the disciples after He rose from the dead. When Jesus says “Peace,” He means it. He has won it. And He gives it to us. It is the peace that passes all understanding. It is peace between God and man, and the peace that gives us the strength to see the joy of victory even as we mourn. It is the peace of the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life. It is the peace that comforts us to where we too can say, with St. Simeon, with Betty, with all Christians living and departed, declaring victory over death, and peace without end:
“Lord, 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.”
Peace be with you. Amen.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.