The Memorial Service for Lydia Riedel
Family and friends of Lydia: grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. In his first letter, St. John writes, “And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete/fulfilled.” Those are words that we could very well hear each time we have a funeral or a memorial service. Because the Christian faith is not an abstraction. Our faith does not hold to a distant thing, far off in the bright distance, at which we have to squint. The Christian faith is here and now, right in the middle of this life as it is, not as we wish it would be. John writes this letter to Christians struggling with various heresies, with intermittent persecution, in very unstable and uncertain circumstances. As relatively comfortable as we are in the United States, our circumstances are no less unstable and uncertain than those to whom John wrote. We have no more control over life and death than they did. We still grow weary under the weight of our sin and the sin of others; we still face the deterioration of our bodies and our minds. We still long for an end to suffering and the restoration of God’s good creation. Into the midst of these things, exactly as they are, and not how we wish they were, John says, “We write these things so that our joy may be fulfilled.”
We have joy: the joy of God’s good gifts. The joy of family, and the communion we share with other Christians. The joy of good memories, and the joy of grace that prevents the symptoms of death from fully having their way. But our joy is not yet fulfilled. It is not yet complete. And John knows it. But he also knows where true joy is found: a joy that cannot be ruined or corrupted by circumstances, emotions, ability or disability, or anything in this whole creation. This joy can’t be destroyed or taken from us, because it comes from outside of us. What does John write so that joy might be fulfilled? “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our own eyes, which we have observed, and our own hands have touched concerning the Word of Life—even the life that was revealed—and we have seen and borne witness and proclaimed to you the eternal Life that was with the Father and was revealed to us—what we have seen and heard, we proclaimed also to you…” John is very clearly writing to them of Jesus. It is the Word, the Son, that was from the beginning with the Father; it is that Word which was made flesh, and so revealed to us; it is that Jesus whom John and the others saw with their own eyes and heard with their own ears and touched with their own hands. In Jesus, raised from the dead, our joy is complete, because none of the things that try to steal our joy here are present in Him: no sin, no death, no sickness, no pain, no sorrow. He is the firstborn from the dead, and He intends to bring His whole creation into life with Him.
That’s why He tells His disciples that He goes to make a place for them—but not in heaven, as we usually hear that verse. In John 14, the place He’s going is the cross. It is at the cross that Jesus carves out, in the midst of death, a new life. Even while we live in the midst of death, He makes room in death for life. At the cross, He made a place for Lydia in eternal life, that is, in Himself. He is the Life, as John also says twice in those first four verses of his letter. He gave her that place when she was baptized, and this Life was proclaimed to Lydia probably thousands of times during her lifetime, including her many years as the wife of a pastor. I had the privilege of delivering that Life to her in the Body and Blood of Christ, as she had communion with Christ, and with God the Father, and with all those, including Paul, who share the life of Christ. She knew there was a place for her in the life of Christ, and, especially the last two or three times I saw her, she was longing to be free of the constraints of her sinful and weakened flesh, and to be with the Lord and with His saints. I suspect she knew the truth of Paul’s words when he says that it is better by far to be at home with the Lord. But she also knew that whether she lived or died, she belonged to the Lord. And in that hope she did not hesitate to promise prayers and encouragement for me and my family, though we had known each other only a short time. I am guessing that her husband and family were probably the recipients of those prayers and that encouragement more than once.
And now she waits for her joy to be fulfilled and made complete. Her soul is with the Lord, and that is good, but her hope and joy are not yet complete. She is not yet as God intends His good creation to be: people, both body and soul, living fully in the life that Christ is, worshiping Him with all creation in new bodies, free of sin and death, and in a new creation, free of decay and corruption. Even now our joy is complete in Christ, but we do not see it or experience it. But the promise of Jesus is more concrete and unbreakable than anything we see or feel here. It’s as certain as Jesus’ own resurrection that we, too, will rise, and together with Lydia and all the holy ones of God, we will see face to face the one whom John saw and heard and touched. He has been proclaimed to you, just as to Lydia, and because our communion is with Him and the Father, we will see our joy completed on that great and glorious Resurrection day.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 8/26/14