In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Family and friends of Pamela: the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. Many times when we attend funerals or memorial services, we expect to spend our time reminiscing about the person, celebrating his or her life, and thinking about the time we spent together. The problem is, I don’t have any humorous anecdotes or stories about Pam. I don’t have any memories of this or that time when she told me something. I cannot relate to you anything that will shed light on her confession of Jesus Christ or her faith. I simply do not know. You do know all of those things, and more, and it is good for you to talk to each other about those times, and to rehearse those memories with family and friends. But the truth is, if this short time in this place were primarily about Pam it would be a failure, since I didn’t know her. If this were primarily about Pam, I’d say we have little to no hope, since everything you know of her, even the best memory, is in the past. Now, don’t get me wrong: this is about Pam, but it is not about what she did or said. It is about what Jesus did for Pam. And that is something I do know about.
In John 14, Thomas asked Jesus about something he didn’t know. Jesus had talked to them about going to another place, and that He would bring the disciples to be with Him. Thomas asked, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” It seems that Thomas was focused on the place where Jesus was going, and not on the One who would be there. We have a similar inclination. Often at funerals we hear about people being in better places and about going to heaven. Indeed, heaven is a better place than this sin-sick world. But it’s not because of the place, it’s because of the Person. No place is heaven if Jesus is not there. And wherever Jesus is, that is what the Scriptures mean by heaven. The place Jesus was preparing for the disciples, and for Pam, and for you, is a place where He can bring all His own to Himself. Not only is Jesus the goal, but He is the way to that goal. “I am the Way, the Truth, the Life,” Jesus says, “and I am the only way to the Father. I am the only way to His mercy, to His forgiveness, to His life, to His peace; in fact, I am His mercy, His forgiveness, His life, His peace.” So if you have Jesus, you have everything. If you have Jesus, everything else is the free gift of the Father to His children. If you don’t have Jesus, you have nothing. If you don’t have Jesus, everything else is death. Everything else is eternal death, because Jesus is the only life; everything else is a lie, because Jesus is the only truth; everything else is a dead-end, because Jesus is the only way. “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God….[But] if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8:6-8, 11, ESV).
Whenever I have a chance to visit with people who are close to death, I try to read from Paul’s letter to the Romans, where Paul talks about what it means for the Father to send His Son to sinners. “If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? … Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us…. For I have been convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:31-32, 34, 38-39). The fact is, Jesus is constantly doing the work of bringing His own to be with Him. It is not only a future reality, though that is when we will see it with our own eyes; it is a reality now. Jesus did not go to heaven to prepare a place for you, though that is often how we hear that passage. If you read the context, though, it is clear that where Jesus is going is to the cross. That is where He prepares a place for His own. He carves out life in the midst of death, and then He gives that life—He gives Himself—to sinners who only know death. Death is all we can see here. But that is not the final word. Jesus is the final word, and He is the Life. He has risen from the dead, and He cannot die again. Nor can those who are joined to Him.
St. Paul again: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, 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, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:3-5). So it was that soon after Pam was born on April 10, 1972, on April 23 she was born a second time from above: joined to Jesus, put to death in Christ’s death, and Jesus marked out a place in eternal life for her. But Jesus’ promise to Pam on that day was much more than that her soul would be in heaven. Jesus’ promise, like His resurrection, was about Pam’s body also. Even though it looks today like death has spoken the final word, it also appeared that way on a Friday outside Jerusalem. But it was not so. Death could not hold the sinless Son of God in flesh, nor can it hold Pam’s flesh. Jesus will return for all His own, He will call Pam and all the saints to Himself, and He will give eternal life to Pam and all who believe in Christ. Resurrection is the promise; a new heavens and a new earth is the promise; no more sin, sickness, nursing homes, death, mourning, or any such thing is the promise. It was the promise Christ made to Pam, and it is the promise He makes to you. In His death, Christ has carved out a place in His own life for you, and for all people. And you know the way, because Jesus is the way. Jesus in Baptism, Jesus in the word of forgiveness, Jesus very body and blood in the Holy Communion. All of it for Pam, and all of it for you. So do not let your hearts be troubled. We grieve, but not as those without hope, because the same Jesus who prepared a place for you on the cross, will come again. And He knows down to the last man, the last, woman, the last child, those who are His, who have been marked by His Name. He did not forget Pam, and He will not forget you.
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, 8/25/15