Summary: A funeral sermon for one of my shut ins preached 5/27/2009 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church. She requested this text and the hymn "Who Is This Host Arrayed in White" at her funeral, and what a comfort it was!
This morning, we’re here in God’s House because in His great wisdom, God saw fit to call Ellowene Dorothy Christensen to her eternal home on Saturday afternoon. We’re here today to find comfort and strength due to the fact that a mother, grandmother, great grandmother, aunt, (sister), neighbor, and friend has died. And it hurts! Paul and Karen, it’s always hard on adult children when you have to watch the person who took care of you for so many years now be the one who needs to be taken care of. It hurts to have to watch helplessly as your mom’s health deteriorated, to the point where she needed to move to the Salem Lutheran Home in Elk Horn where she could get the kind of care she needed. And today, it hurts all of us because Ellowene isn’t with us. That’s why we’re here today, to hear God’s Word of comfort and strength to get us through the days and weeks ahead as we grieve at the death of our loved one.
Those of you who have been to funerals I’ve preached at in the past and noticed that John 14 was the Gospel reading may have been expecting me to preach on it, because I tend to use it as text for a lot of my funeral sermons. And it’s a great funeral text, but this morning, I am actually going to spend our time looking at our Epistle reading from Revelation 7. It’s a reading that I am commending to you, Ellowene’s family and friends, because you’re going to find a LOT of comfort in the picture we get from that reading and what it means to Ellowene, and to you and to me.
St. John is the human author of the book of Revelation. By the time Revelation is written, John is the last remaining Apostle, the others having been martyred for their faith in Christ. While John is spared a violent death, he does have to spend the rest of his life exiled on the island of Patmos. He also witnesses a LOT of persecution and violence directed at Christians. While on the island in exile, he is given this Revelation from God, and is told to write it down and share that message to the churches. In the reading we have today, John sees this large crowd, from every tribe and race. They are standing in front of the throne of the Lamb, who is Jesus Christ. They are dressed in white robes, and waving palm branches, a symbol of victory in John’s day. Their cry is this: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne and to the Lamb.” They are joining with angels, archangels, and the entire company of heaven in worshipping the true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. John is told that this crowd is made up of those who’s robes have been washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb; the blood of Christ shed at the cross for the forgiveness of the sins of the world. And because Christ has done this, and because they have been cleansed through the blood of Christ, they are able to live in the presence of God forever, not knowing pain, sorrow, hunger, thirst, or tears ever again.
In a way, it is a perfect picture of those who have died in faith in Christ Jesus and have been taken into heaven to be in the presence of God forever. In fact, our recessional hymn for today, “Who is This Host Arrayed in White” is based on this very passage. In the church, we hear this reading each year on All Saints’ Day, a day that we remember all of those who have died in the faith and are now in the presence of Christ forever, in particular, those who have died in our congregations in the past year. So on this day that we mourn the death of a loved one, this is a very appropriate reading to hear, especially as it pertains to the context of Ellowene’s life.
While Ellowene’s life in this world began on March 18th, 1917, another important date in her life happened about a month later on April 22nd, when her parents, Chris and Anna Jensen, brought their newborn baby girl to the old church that stood out where the flagpole is today, and Rev. J.P. Christiansen, who was the pastor of this congregation at that time, proclaimed God’s Word, and baptized Ellowene in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Her parents, as part of the baptismal rite, promised that they would see to it that their daughter would have the Scriptures placed in her hands and taught the basics of the Christian faith. They brought her to the services of God’s House, and, at first in the Danish language, and later on in English, she heard of her Savior’s great love for her, about how the world had fallen into sin and by nature, we were not able to earn God’s favor by our own thoughts, words, or deeds. She heard how much God loved her that He sent His Son into this world to take on our human flesh, to live the perfect, sinless life we were unable to live, and then allow himself to be arrested, beaten, and crucified in our place and take the punishment from God that our sins had earned us, and that He rose again on Easter to redeem her from sin, death, and the power of the devil. On April 17th, 1932, Ellowene stood before the congregation, and professed through the Rite of Confirmation that the faith she had learned from the Scriptures was hers . Ellowene continued to be a very active member of this congregation as long as her health permitted her. You’d often find her sitting in one of the pews in this sanctuary, standing with the congregation on any given Sunday, and confessing the Scriptural truth that she had sinned in thought, word, and deed, and didn’t deserve God’s favor based on anything she had done. Then she heard the comforting words that because of what Christ had done for her, that she was forgiven of all of her sins, and would receive the gifts of forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation. She heard the Pastor proclaim the good news of Christ crucified from this pulpit, and when she would kneel at the rail in front of this altar, she would hear her Savior, through the voice of the Pastor, say “Take and eat, take and drink, this is my body and blood, that I have given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of all of your sins.” Those were all good days for her, days she was reminded of the great love her Savior had for her.