6 February 2017
Text: Luke 2:25-32 (Isa 25:6-9, 2 Cor 4:7-18)
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
Dear Ralph, Paul, Jane, family friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, and honored guests – peace be with you.
What has brought all of us together on this day is a confluence of events in our lives. They all touch upon George Bastiansen. He is responsible for many of you being alive. Some of you worked with him. Some of you spoke with him from time to time. Others knew him extremely well. To many of you, he was a huge part of your lives.
But it isn’t only the fact that George was involved in all of our lives that brings us here. We all know it. There is a sad reality that we can’t cover up with condolences and memories. We are here in grief. Death has brought us to this time together.
In our modern life, we try to sanitize death. We often hear of it as just a part of life, just something you expect when a person is nearly ninety years old, or even as a good thing, the end of suffering or the solution to what people describe as a problem. People mean well and often say generic comforting things about death.
But dear friends, my relationship with George was different than all of yours: it was spiritual and pastoral, grounded in our mutual Christian faith. He was not my father or relative or coworker. George was my parishioner, a Christian whom God placed under my care. It was not just my privilege and honor, but also my pleasure to visit George in his home to bring him Word and Sacrament when he was no longer able to attend church. And so I speak as George’s pastor when I say that death is not a blessing or a solution.
God calls it the enemy.
We were never designed to die. Death separates us from our loved ones. God did not bring us to this sad day: we did. Our ancestors did. Our sinful nature did. All of us are guilty, and so was George. Our Christian faith confesses the truth that we are all sinners, and death is our lot. And no matter what kind of brave face we put on it, it is horrible. It’s okay to say so. It’s okay to mourn.
But the Christian faith doesn’t stop in describing death as the enemy. It doesn’t just abandon us to this merciless foe. For in Christ Jesus, who Himself died as an atoning sacrifice for us, in Him, death is a defeated enemy. Death doesn’t get the final say to those who have been born again of water and the Spirit, to those who believe and have been baptized, to those who receive the gift of everlasting life.
George didn’t earn it: Christ earned it. I didn’t decree George to be a victor over death and the grave: Christ did so.
And so something else brings us together at this time and place: the good news that Jesus Christ died the death we deserve so that we would rise even as He has risen. George was baptized into Christ Jesus and was therefore baptized into His death, buried with Him, “in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His,” says St. Paul, then, “we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.”
“Certainly,” dear friends. That is the word used in Scripture. “Certainly.”
In my visits to George, we always celebrated the Mass, the liturgy of Holy Communion. It was my joy to participate with George in the most holy body and blood of Christ – in the words of Jesus: “for the forgiveness of sins.” We shared in this forgiveness, life, and salvation again and again. We confessed our sins, heard the good news of forgiveness, received assurance that Christ’s blood atoned for us, and then we indeed participated in that body and blood.
In our Lutheran tradition, it is customary to sing what the Church calls the Nunc Dimittis, the Song of Simeon, from Luke chapter 2, after receiving Holy Communion. This is our Gospel reading today. It describes an elderly man who seeks God. And he was told that he would not die until he found this God that he sought. This God came to St. Simeon as a baby, as the child Jesus in the flesh. And so, having received Jesus, Simeon was now ready to “depart in peace.” This is the Christian life in a nutshell. This is the Gospel in a few verses. This is George’s life now and forever. This is our blessed assurance from God Himself that we will see George again, and that meeting will be in the flesh.
And so, dear friends, we mourn the loss of our beloved George. We are saddened and we grieve. But we don’t grieve like those who are without hope. We have the hope – the certain hope – that George is with our Lord in eternity, and that we will see him again at the resurrection of the body, as the Prophet Isaiah describes, at a “feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.” For God “will swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces.”
As St. Paul taught us again today, this death that we suffer in our bodies, in these “jars of clay,” is a “slight momentary affliction” that is “preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,” the things that are eternal.
This is what St. Simeon longed for, what George and I prayed for, and what we know is reality for George now that He has departed in peace according to God’s Word.
Jesus’ victory over death and the grave is George’s victory, and ours too, dear brothers and sisters. And this is our comfort and our source of strength and even defiant and godly joy in the midst of our mourning.
And as George and I sang in the liturgy, and as Christians the world over continue to sing again and again, having received Jesus in His flesh and blood, we continue to sing in this life:
“Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people, a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of Thy people Israel. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.”
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.