In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Family and friends of Jean, grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Savior, Jesus Christ. I would like to say, first of all, that no matter how things were going for me personally, a single visit with Jean never failed to lift me up spiritually and emotionally. She always thanked me profusely for simply doing the things I’m here to do: visit and bring the Word and Lord’s Supper to those who can’t be present in the Lord’s house. Of course, she was present for many years, always happy. When she wasn’t able to drive any more, she always expressed her disappointment at not being able to come to church, and I always told her that if she couldn’t come to church, I would bring the church to her.
And that’s something that is sometimes missed about the Body of Christ. It is not a localized body, stuck between the walls of this building, as important as gathering here is. It is not the building that joins us together as Christ’s Body, but Christ. So I count it one of my greatest privileges as a pastor to be able to bring Christ in His own word and His own Body and Blood to those, like Jean, who are still members of that Body but, for whatever reason, aren’t able to be there on the Lord’s Day.
For all of those reasons, I celebrate with you the life that God gave to her, and the blessings she was able to give and receive to and from all of you who loved her. Even so, we have to recognize that we are here because the life for which we give thanks has come to its earthly end. And as much as we do not want to dwell on that fact today, it remains immovable and present. Death is the reality that Jean avoided for an amazingly—even miraculously—long time. And through that entire time, confined to her house or receiving the care of those at the Caring Cottage, I can count on less than one hand the number of times she seemed down or unhappy. Her mind didn’t always work the way it used to, her confusion might have been more or less, but she always welcomed me with a smile and a hug. I count it as a blessing that I was able to visit with her and get to know her.
But it is a far greater blessing that she knew the voice of her Lord, Jesus. She received His Word gratefully. She said “amen” when she received Christ’s Body and Blood. And that word and sacrament of Christ sustained her at every moment, in every affliction, whenever her body groaned, being burdened in this world. We, with Jean, know the truth of St. Paul’s words when he says that our outer nature is wasting away. We know that everything we see is transient and passing away. We know the afflictions of body and mind. None of that is news to us.
But what is surprising is that none of that is final. None of that is the last word. None of that is the lasting truth for those who are in Christ. Jean was baptized into Christ, and therefore every word that is said of Jesus according to His human body is true also of Jean, regardless of what we see happening in this world. Yes, sin means that our outer nature is wasting away, but Christ means that our inner nature is being renewed day in and day out, right in the very middle of the wasting away. Yes, sin means we have afflictions now, but Christ means that the eternal fullness of glory will make every affliction look temporary, weightless, and insignificant. Sin means we groan, being burdened, but Christ means that we have been prepared by God in His Spirit to have these dying bodies swallowed up by life.
We do not see now what Christ has done in us. We do not see the life and the resurrection. But those who have been joined to Christ look to the unseen things in faithful and patient hope. Even when our grip might be slipping due to organ failure, or dementia, or any other affliction, God hangs on to us in Christ by His own word. And so Jean always said “amen” to the Word and Supper of Christ, which is much more than the end of a prayer. “Amen” is the word that says “Yes, this is true.”
It was true for Jean throughout her life. It was true for her when her mind and body began to betray her. It was true in her final moments. And it is true for you now. Jean has seen, but we still walk by faith. Jean has been released from the groaning burden of living in a body subject to sin and death, but we still groan, being burdened. Jean rests from her labors, while we continue to work on. And Jean waits in glory for what we wait for here: the full glory of the resurrection and the new creation, when there will be no problems of body, soul, or mind; no more grieving or mourning or crying; no more sickness or death. Because God raised Jesus from the dead, He will also bring us with Jean into His glorious, eternal, healing presence.
So, as always, Christ alone remains our hope, as it was Jean’s. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever: He is given to us precisely at these moments, but He is also given to us whether we are doing well or overwhelmed; He’s given to us whether we are in pain or pain-free. He’s given to us when things around us are good and when they’re bad. He’s given to us for every moment, every day, every year. And in that we rejoice and celebrate, for Jean and for ourselves, 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, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 6/6/18