In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Friends and family of Jan: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I have a word of grace and a word of peace for you today. But it is not because I knew Jan and can give you a personal account of what she did during her life, or because I heard her confess faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection for her. No, the word of grace and peace I have is only the word of Jesus for all people. But because it’s for all people—for every person—it was for Jan and it is for you.
Now, it is indeed good for you to flip through the pages of your minds and bring out memories, dust them off, and hold them up to the light again; to laugh, cry, and remember. But as we do that, we are still confronted with a single, stark fact that cannot be denied or covered up by all our good memories and sympathetic words: that fact is that we are confronted today with a funeral, a memorial service, and this urn. As much as we celebrate and remember Jan’s life, we cannot forget that we are here because of her death. And that is something that, no matter how hard we try, we cannot overcome for ourselves. Every sinner dies, and there has never been a single exception to that rule. As grateful as we are for the mercy of God, that Jan was spared any more suffering as a result of her mind becoming more and more clouded, we cannot confuse that mercy for the lie that death itself is good. It is not. It is, as St. Paul reminds us today, an enemy to be conquered. Death is an alien intrusion into God’s good creation, violently separating the body and soul that God joined together.
But death would not be the last defiant word in the face of the God who spoke life into existence. No doubt it looked that way for Adam and Eve. It looks that way now for Jan. And remember: it looked that way for Jesus. What word can possibly trump the finality of the word, “He has died”? Only one: “He has risen! He has risen, indeed! Alleluia!” If not for that word of grace and peace, we would mourn as the hopeless, who, like the grass of the earth, are here today and fly away with the wind tomorrow. If not for that word of resurrection, our entire faith, every bit of it, would be empty and useless. You can find morality elsewhere than in Jesus. You can find good examples in the world apart from Jesus. You can find health, wealth, and prosperity being preached on dozens of TV channels. But all of that is bread that perishes; and those who eat it will perish with it.
What you can find nowhere else is the word of resurrection that trumps this word of death. Only in Jesus do we have the bread of life; only He gives life in the midst of this world of death. He is the true bread from heaven; only He can give Himself to you; and He alone will sustain you into eternal life. Jesus says: The will of God is that I lose none of those whom He gave me, but raise it up on the last day (John 6:39). Jesus says: The one who sees the Son and trusts Him alone, I will raise up on the last day (John 6:40). Jesus says: The one eating My flesh and drinking My blood has life eternal, and I will raise him on the last day (John 6:54). In Holy Baptism, Jesus joined Jan to Himself on December 1, 1936; on that day, Jesus gave Jan the bread of life by joining her to His own cross and raising her in His own resurrection. Jesus fed her for 79 years with the bread of heaven that gives life to the world, every time Jan heard the absolution of her Lord. Jesus gave His own flesh and blood into Jan’s hands and mouth so that she might live, even if she died. Jesus does not lose those whom the Father has given Him and, whatever she might have lost, Jesus did not lose Jan. His pierced hands, which He showed to the disciples after His resurrection, are the only hands that never lose their grip on those He loves. He knows His own and His own know Him, and He will raise them up on the last day.
Jesus is the word of grace and truth. He is the only Bread sent from heaven, whom you can eat and live forever. He is the resurrection and the life: whoever believes in Him will live, even though she dies. And all the believers who are alive when He comes will never die. He is the food that never perishes, and He is the Word of grace and truth from God Himself, the only comfort in life and the only solace in death—this is the Word we have by faith, until Jesus finishes what He started in His own body and raises all His Christians to new life. Then we will stand in our resurrection bodies, along with all God’s holy ones, in a new creation that never ends because it exists in Him who will never die. I pray that grace and that peace for you today and always.
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).
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 6/9/16