In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Family and friends of Kelly, especially Marita, Victor, Alana, and Jake, and especially today: the peace of God be with you and the love of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
I didn’t have the chance to get to know Kelly like you did and so I can’t tell you any stories or memories that I have of her. But times like these are great opportunities for you to share with each other the stories and memories of times you’ve had with Kelly. I know you cherish all those moments and it is good to remember and think about them with happiness.
But even though I can’t do that, I do have words for you, words that come from the mouth of the God who knew and knows Kelly better even than anyone here. He created her. He gave His Son to die and be raised for her. He put His holy Name on her when she was baptized. And there is nothing in this world that can separate or push away God from those whom He has named as His own. We sometimes drift from Him; Isaiah says that all of us, like sheep, have gone astray. But He is the Good Shepherd, who is always calling, always speaking, always feeding and nourishing His sheep, so that they know His voice.
God is for us. How do we know that? Well, we certainly don’t know it by looking around us, at our lives, or our circumstances, or our experiences. Sometimes those are good things, and we thank God for His earthly blessings. But often there are things that we have trouble seeing how, in the midst of them, God could be for us. How is God for us when the doctor says dreaded words such as cancer? How is God for us in the hardest times, the worst times, the times when we have trouble finding anything good in which to rejoice?
So how do we know that God is for us? St. Paul was not ignorant of hard times and difficulties and suffering. And He asks the question to Christians who, like him, had experienced things beyond their ability to rationalize. He says, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” Those are not things that anyone desires to experience. But Paul says that God is for us not because everything works out the way we hope or wish it would, but precisely because of this: this God did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all. If God gives us Jesus as our Lord, then what will He not give us?
Who but our Lord knows all human sin and suffering and death? And when Jesus cries out to His Father on the cross, My God, why have You forsaken Me? He gets no answer. Not at that moment and not on that day. On that dark but good Friday, who would have said that Jesus’ God and Father was for Him? Probably no one watching. Certainly not those who had contended for His crucifixion. But Jesus knew that His God was for Him. He had the promise that God would not let His Holy One stay in that grave. He believed that promise fully and completely.
And then, on Sunday morning, Jesus saw and experienced and had that promise fulfilled when He was raised from the dead. If Jesus hadn’t been raised from the dead, then—and only then—could He or we doubt the promise that God is for us. But because Jesus is risen from the dead and lives now and forever, then we, too, can trust that promise of Jesus’ Father. He has given it to us in Holy Baptism. He assures us of it every time we gather to hear His words of forgiveness and eat His Supper. Over and over, He tells us and shows us that He is our Good Shepherd, gathering, keeping, comforting, and feeding His dear children.
And so He does for us today, assuring us that because we are in Christ, we have nothing to fear from life or death. Because we are in Christ, what happened to Jesus will happen to us. And this is why it’s so important to gather together and hear the Word of our Good Shepherd, not only in hard and bad times but also in comfortable and good times. He is our Lord at all times. He longs to give us the good pasture of His Word and Supper. He lay down His life for Kelly, for you, and for me, and He took it up again in eternal life. That is the life that He delivers to us continually through His Word and Gifts, so that you will have no doubt that the God and Father of the risen Jesus is for you; so that you will have no doubt that there is nothing now or in the future, nothing here, nothing out there, nothing in life or death, that can separate us from the Love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord. That gift is for Kelly and that gift is for you: if you are joined to Christ, who is risen from the dead, then because He is already on the far side of death, you will one day join Him there. As Paul says in another place, if we have been joined to Him [in Baptism] in a death like His, then we shall certainly, without a doubt, be joined to Him in a resurrection like His (Romans 6:5).
God grant to you in Christ this living hope now and in the days to come, until we are all gathered in the single, eternally living flock of Jesus, our Good Shepherd.
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, 1/10/19