Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, through your Holy Spirit, open our hearts and minds to your Word, granting us a renewed and strengthened faith, that we might find comfort in your grace, and hope for the future. Enable us to trust in your gift of eternal life, accomplished for us through the death and resurrection of your Son, Jesus the Christ, so that we might live our lives in the confidence of being reunited with all your redeemed saints, in the life to come. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.
Let me begin by expressing to you Ab, and the rest of your family, not only my personal sympathy, but also the sympathy of our congregation. Quite frankly, you and Yvonne have been well loved and respected members of our congregation for more than the 20 years that I have been your pastor, and so we share in your grief, and lift you in our prayers and concern, that God’s grace might bring you his peace.
Yvonne struck me as a quiet, unassuming, loving person, who was very faithful in her worship of our Lord. And every Sunday she was here, she would always greet me following worship, with a handshake and wish me a good day. In fact, over the past couple of years, when she was able to come to worship, using a cane and Ab’s arm to steady her walk, she would still greet me at the entrance to the nave.
Of course, our handshake then provided us with a little bit of humor. No matter what hand in which she carried the cane, I would reach for it, telling her that I could use either hand to greet her. Sometimes I would even turn my hand backwards, telling her I could take her greeting any way she wanted to give it.
And I would assume that Yvonne must have been a pretty good cook. For outside of her growing frustration with her health, there were only two complaints that I ever heard her voice. One was that she really did not like the food at White Cliff. The other, spoken more out of a sense of concern, was, and I quote, “Ab can’t boil water.” Ab, I’ll take that to mean that Yvonne preferred her cooking to yours.
The truth is, Yvonne loved you, her family very much. And over the past few years, when she spent time in the hospital or the nursing home, her greatest concern that she voiced to me on my visits, was concern for you. In so doing, she expressed to me a very special, genuine love for you, her husband and children.
Yet, over the past few years, we have all seen Yvonne’s health gradually deteriorate. It was difficult for us all to witness, but especially for you, her family, to experience. And as we have watched Yvonne’s health wind down, rather quickly during the past month or so, we may have experienced our own anxiety winding up. Our hopes that she may have been healed of her various diseases, slowly gave way to the thought that she might not be with us much longer, and the hope that she need not suffer indefinitely. It is a painful transition to make, for all involved, as we face the finite existence of life here on earth.
Listen to how Paul expressed his faith, as he perceived his life here on earth coming to an end. Paul writes, in his letter to the Philippians, and I quote, “For I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance. It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death…
If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you…” End quote.
I believe this is the struggle that Yvonne faced, as she neared the end of her life. She dearly loved you, her family, and cared for you deeply. She wanted to be with you, cook for you, and do what she could to enhance your life with her presence. And yet she knew, that the ultimate goal of her faith, was to be with her crucified, risen and ascended Lord, as a baptized child of the kingdom of God.
Then, realizing that her health would not improve, Yvonne gave us all a gift, a witness to her faith, one that this pastor will remember for the rest of my life. Last week, Ab called me and asked me if I would bring Yvonne communion, that she was not doing well. When I arrived, and greeted her, the first words that she said, to both Ab and I, were, “I am ready to go home.”
I then asked her, “Do you mean, to go home to be with Christ?” “Yes,” she said, “I’m ready. I want to go home.”
I then acknowledged that the past few years have been a rough struggle for her, which she acknowledged. Then she requested communion, which we shared together. And when we finished, I asked her to greet our risen Lord for me, and say hello to a few dear friends, which she acknowledged that she would.
I was so moved by her honest faith, that I leaned over her and gave her a kiss on the forehead. It was not just a kiss that said goodbye. It was not just a kiss of peace. It was a kiss of thanksgiving for her life of faith, that had, at that moment, given me peace and courage to entrust her to our Lord. And Ab, I believe you felt that peace as well. In fact, I hope we all feel that peace, that Yvonne gave us that day!
It is a peace that comes from believing and trusting in what God has done for us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. So let us listen for a moment to the promise of the Gospel, which gave Yvonne the faith to die in peace, and give us this gift.
First, listen to the words of Jesus, whom John tells us he spoke to his disciples just prior to his own death. Jesus says, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and take you to myself, so that where I am, you may be also.
This is clearly the hope of the Christian faith. It is what enables us, who have been baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, to face our death here on earth, in peace. It is the promise of Easter, the season in which we focus on how the apostles were able to overcome their anxiety and fear, following Christ’s crucifixion, to be empowered by his resurrection and God’s Spirit to unbolt their doors and proclaim God’s victory over sin and death.
Clearly, the future of every baptized Christian, who trusts in the promise of the Gospel, is to enter into the presence of our risen Christ, in God’s heavenly kingdom. To be in his presence, to experience his love and grace face to face, is the goal of our faith. And although none of us can truly depict what our life beyond our death here on earth might be like, our Lord assures us of a place in God’s kingdom, where we will abide with him forever.
Is this not what Paul asserts in his Letter to the Corinthians, where he states, “If for this life only, we have hoped in Christ, we are, of all people, most to be pitied.” After all, if there is no life beyond our finite life here on earth, our faith is futile, without substance and hope. We have been deceiving ourselves with false hope in God’s love for us.
But then Paul goes on to state, that “in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died…” Then he adds, “as in Adam, all will die,” that is, according to our finite nature here on earth, we only have a certain time to live, “so in Christ, all will be made alive,” meaning that after our death, the baptized people of faith will have a new life.
That’s the good news about the Gospel. It turns our finite thinking upside down, and helps us to see things differently – from God’s point of view. For example, listen to the set of opposites, contained in this letter of Paul to the Corinthians. St. Paul writes: "What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. What is sown in dishonor, is raised in glory. What is sown in weakness, is raised in power. What is sown a physical body, is raised a spiritual body."
The first word in each of these four sets of opposites, is what we are experiencing at this moment, as we have gathered to entrust Yvonne into God’s loving care. It is a reminder of the finite nature of life here on earth.
Yet the second word in each of these four sets of opposites describes what we are not able to see at this moment. These words describe the work of Almighty God to bring to fruition, to bring to reality, what was promised to Yvonne at her baptism - the destination of her faith.
May we take these words to heart. "What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable." This says to me, that although Yvonne was born a finite person here on earth, a child of mortal parents, as we all are, yet because of her baptism and faith in Christ, she still lives on. More than this, it tells us that the life she now has, will never be taken from her.
Secondly, St. Paul tells us, "What is sown in dishonor, is raised in glory." Does this not describe our own relationship with God? Even though we may sin, not live according to God’s will for our lives, and leave this earth as less than a perfect person, through God’s gracious forgiveness in Jesus the Christ, we stand before God as his redeemed saints. No one is perfect, yet through our baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection, we stand before God as his redeemed children whom he loves.
Thirdly, St. Paul tells us, "What is sown in weakness, will be raised in power." Now this is an awesome thought. Clearly, this passage tells us that the illnesses that weakened Yvonne’s life over the last few years of her life here on earth will be overcome in the life to come. It says to me, that she need not struggle with her illness any longer, not because she has died, but because God has restored her to wholeness in his presence.
And finally, Paul tells us that "what is sown a physical body, is raised a spiritual body." In all honesty, this set of opposites is hard to describe. All we know in this life here on earth is our physical being. We know the senses of physical life: we touch, we feel, we see, we taste, we hear. And when we cease to view life from these functions, we cease to live life as we have come to know it.
Nevertheless, I trust in God’s promise of redemption, and St. Paul’s insight, that what we consider to be important here on earth, will be surpassed, not limited, in the life to come.
In conclusion, let me suggest that what we do here today, may well be the opposite of what we think we do. Instead of mourning the end of Yvonne’s life, we may well be celebrating her arrival at a new and more glorious life, due solely to the tremendous love of God in Jesus the Christ.
So hold on to your memories of Yvonne from years past, and be prepared to greet her again, for I believe that she will be there to greet us and welcome us into our Lord’s presence just as she welcomed me every Sunday after worship. And although you, her children, may need to teach Ab how to boil water, and take up in new ways, your caring for each other, be assured, that even this will not last forever. For in the time of God’s eternity, it will not be long before we join Yvonne in our risen Lord’s presence.