Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Sermon: Funeral of Joan Frichter

18 April 2018

Text: John 10:10b-15, 27-30 (Isa 25:6-9, 1 Cor 15:51-57)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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

It was my privilege to be Joan’s pastor for many years, to visit her with the Word of God and the Holy Sacrament, to pronounce Holy Absolution over her, and to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to her.

This word “Gospel” is lost on a lot of people.  Either it calls to mind a certain style of music, or some kind of fluffy religiosity.  But that’s not what “Gospel” literally means.  “Gospel” means “good news.”  And in spite of the sadness of losing a beloved aunt and step-mother and friend, in spite of the normal mourning that we all do in the passing away of a loved one, I’m here to bring you good news, dear friends, just as I brought good news to Joan.

It’s the same Good News that we Christians have been proclaiming for nearly 2,000 years now.  Too many people mistakenly think of the Christian faith as rules and regulations, or some kind of mythology, or worst of all, just a code word for being nice and inoffensive.

Jesus was, and is, offensive.  He insulted the self-righteous Pharisees with frank and shocking language.  He overturned the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple.  And most offensive of all, He suffered crucifixion so that unworthy sinners might have everlasting life: unworthy sinners like me, like Joan, and like you.  None of us deserves salvation, and it doesn’t matter how nice we may seem.  There is nothing more scandalous than the cross of Jesus and the promise of salvation that it delivers.

Joan knew this.  It’s what Scripture teaches.  It’s what Jesus teaches.  It’s what the Church teaches. And this shocking truth makes the Gospel just that more unbelievably good news. 

Jesus didn’t come so that Joan would live on in our hearts and memories.  Jesus didn’t come so that Joan would be a good person and as a result, “go to heaven.”  Jesus came so that Joan would literally be rescued and raised from death, just as He literally walked out of His own tomb, was seen and touched by eyewitnesses, and began a worldwide movement that not even Caesars and Caliphs and kings could extinguish; not even Communist dictators, Nazi fascists, or even people in our own country who hate Christianity – can ever destroy.  For you cannot destroy the truth.

Jesus didn’t come so that Joan could become an angel or float around some imaginary sky as a butterfly.  Jesus came for the sake of true, literal, physical resurrection: His own and Joan’s: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly,” says Jesus, our good shepherd.  “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 is able to snatch them out of My hand.”

This comforting ironclad promise was made to Joan when she was baptized.  This promise was reiterated to Joan each and every time that she took the body and blood of Christ.  This promise to Joan was signed at the cross, sealed at the baptismal font, and will be delivered on the day of the “resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”

Joan knew all this very well.  This was her confession.  It is the confession of the church catholic, that is, the Church universal, from the days of the apostles until the day when the Lord returns in glory, when “the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed,” as St. Paul wrote to the ancient church at Corinth.  “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’  O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?”

That, dear friends, is what Christianity is.  Yes, we are hurting.  Yes, we are mourning.  Yes we grieve.  But we have hope: the hope the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  And that hope allows us to mock death, to taunt the devil, and to shockingly claim communion with God Himself, though we don’t deserve it.  It is a free gift given by grace, given by our crucified Lord, given for our eternal life.

That is indeed good news!  That is the Christian faith – the faith Joan confessed, the faith that delivers to her eternal life in Christ, the reason why I visited her with Word and Sacrament.  That promise is Joan’s, and it is hers for all eternity.

So many people think of heaven as a kind of Pagan paradise with clouds and spirits floating around.  That is not Christianity.  Our faith teaches something quite different: something infinitely better.  The prophet Isaiah speaks of a physically reconstituted earth.  And “on this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined…. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord will wipe away tears from all faces… for the Lord has spoken.”

And even in our mourning, even in our sadness that we are temporarily separated from our beloved Joan, in the promise of Christ’s fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, we can indeed, “be glad and rejoice in this salvation.”

And so, dear friends, I challenge you, even in your grief, to take comfort in the good news, the Gospel, that Jesus died for our sins and rose for our justification, that He is the good shepherd who has come to give us life – real, physical life that will have no end.  This victory is Christ’s.  This victory is Joan’s.  This victory is ours – now and even unto eternity!  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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

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