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In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
To Char and to all of Gary’s family and friends: the peace of Christ is yours and the love of God today and always. I think most people would hope to depart this life in peace, however they would define that. Gary was generally a quiet man, at least around me, though he wasn’t afraid to tell stories or contribute to the conversation. But he was quiet in the sense that he wasn’t boisterous and always making himself the center of everything. I think he was probably content to let others do that. He died how he lived, quietly. He never appeared to be suffering too much, though I’m sure he wouldn’t have let on if he did have pain. Less suffering, the care of good people, and an end to pain are all good.
But it’s not necessarily the same as the peaceful departure for which Simeon prayed when he saw the baby Jesus in the temple. In Luke 2, we see Mary and Joseph bringing Jesus to the temple to offer the required sacrifices. And when they appear, a stranger comes up to them praising God for that baby. He says, “Lord, now dismiss Your servant in peace, according to Your word.” God’s word, because—Luke tells us—the Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not see death before he had seen Jesus, the Lord’s salvation. And now he has. He’s held Jesus in his arms. And so he says, God You have kept Your word. God has shown Simeon the salvation that He has prepared before the eyes of all people, both Jew and Gentile. And because of that—because Simeon has seen God’s salvation in that tiny baby and because God has kept His Word—because of that, whenever the Lord takes Simeon to Himself, it’s all good.
Now nothing in Luke 2 says that Simeon was an old man, though he’s often pictured that way. Nothing says when he died. God doesn’t tell him that he’s going to die as soon as he sees Jesus. He only says that he won’t die before he sees Jesus. This is the same promise that God kept to Gary, and to all of us. We have all seen God’s salvation in Christ. We haven’t seen it like Simeon saw it, holding in our arms the infant Jesus. But it has been given to us, according to the Word of the Lord. It was given to Gary when, according to the Word of Jesus, he was baptized into the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit on August 23, 1941. It was given to Gary when, according to the Word of Jesus, he ate and drank the Body and Blood of Christ, whether in the church or at home after he returned from the hospital.
This is the true departure in peace. It is not determined by the circumstances, or by anything other than the peace of the risen Lord. Though death is not good in itself, because it is an enemy in God’s good creation, there is such a thing as a good death. It is the death died in faith in the promises of God in Christ. It is the faith of Simeon. It is the faith of Gary. It is the faith of all God’s Christians, who know that Christ has defeated death and lives forever, so that those who die in Christ cannot be separated from their Lord. They are with Him, waiting for all things to be put right; waiting for the resurrection of their bodies and the life everlasting; waiting for the end to all tears and all grieving and all sickness and all death.
It is in that hope that Gary died and it is in that hope that we grieve. We do not grieve as those who have no hope, because we know Him who has promised us life, who is Himself the Resurrection and the Life. He who has promised is faithful, and He will do what He said, both for Gary and for you. We have seen His salvation, heard His salvation, eaten and drunk His salvation. And so we, too, can depart in peace, because the Lord keeps His Word, now 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, 5/29/19