The Memorial Service for Joy Deich

Video of the service is here. The sermon begins around the 15:55 mark.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Family and friends of Joy: God, by His Holy Spirit, grant you everlasting peace and comfort in His Son, Jesus Christ, and the hope of His resurrection. Jesus says, Do not let your hearts be troubled; which could also be, Do not let your minds be troubled. In the midst of troubling things, both for our hearts and our minds, the Word of Jesus comes to us: Do not let your hearts, do not let your minds, be troubled.

But why should that word, written down so long ago, be comforting to us here and now? At this point in the Gospel of John, Jesus has been telling His disciples that He is going somewhere they cannot follow. And He has just told Peter that he is going to deny Jesus three times. The disciples are confused, anxious, worried, and sad. Perhaps that is not so far from how we feel when our loved ones are taken from us by death, and especially when they are taken suddenly, before we have a chance to really comprehend what’s happening.

In our grief, confusion, uncertainty, pain, and separation from those we love, we search around for a word of comfort. We might find here in Jesus’ words the idea that He has gone ahead of us into heaven to prepare places for us there, and so we are waiting for the day when we, like Joy, will go to the place He has prepared for us. We have also the comfort of all the good memories and the stories of times with Joy, those she impacted with her patience, her teaching, her desire to help any and every child. But is that all the comfort we have: our memories, and the hope that we will one day go to a better place than this? Is that all the comfort Joy had when she was confused about what was happening around or to her? Whether things were as she thought they were, her fear and confusion were real feelings. Was her only comfort that she would one day die and go to heaven?

That is a kind of comfort. St. Paul says that it is far better to be with the Lord than to be in this sinful flesh in this sinful world, full as it is with suffering, grief, and confusion. But that is not all, not for Joy and not for you. Because if we follow along with the way John tells the story, we see that Jesus is not talking about going to heaven and preparing a place there, to which we will one day go. Everything Jesus says here is not about Him going to heaven, but about Him going to the cross, to His own suffering and death and resurrection. The place Jesus is going, where the disciples are not able yet to follow, is to the Father via His death and resurrection.

When Thomas questions Jesus about this, he says, “Lord, we do not know where You are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus does not say in answer that they will eventually follow Him in death and to heaven. He says that—right then, right now—He is the way, the truth, and the life. Just as He had earlier said to Martha after the death of Lazarus, when she said she knew that her brother would rise on the last day: I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever dies, believing in Me, will live again. And whoever believes in Me and lives until I return, will never die. Jesus is the way, the truth, the resurrection and the life, and so when He goes to His death, He goes to make a place in death for His life, to make room for you in His life. Jesus is Life in the midst of death, not only in the future, after death, but now, here, in the midst of the death we currently face. If you are with Jesus, then even if you are in death, you are in life.

We are all on our way to death, but Jesus comes to open up life for us even now. Joy knew it. She asked me once about what she should do about her own funeral service! That may seem kind of macabre or morbid, but it is just realistic about our situation. And in the midst of the various things about which Joy worried in the last few years, Jesus gave the same promise to her that He gave to His disciples. Do not let your heart and mind be troubled. Trust God and trust Me. I went to death with your sin and rose from the dead, so that you would have an eternal place with Me. And He didn’t give her a promise only about the future, but He gave her a promise now, in His always-present Word: I am with you all the days until the completion of your life and the completion of this age. I will never leave you or forsake you. I forgive you all your sins. I am your life, and your way. Here, take and eat My body and My blood, eternal life here and now, and the assurance that what happened to Jesus will happen to you. Jesus promised that after He went to the cross, and was raised from the dead, He would return for the disciples—and for us. So He did. He gave His death and resurrection to Joy in baptism, and He gathered her to Himself forever—then, already, ahead of time. Because Jesus wrote His holy Name on Joy by that water and that word, He kept her until her final moment in His own nail-scarred hand.

And this is comfort for us now as well: certainly the comfort that God gave Joy faith in Christ, so she was and is and will be with Him. But also comfort that Jesus has undone grief and death forever, so that we do not grieve as those who have no hope, but as those who know that our life now in Christ continues forever because Jesus is alive forever. And it is comfort that not only is Joy’s soul with Jesus, but there is more: the one who gathers us to Himself by His Name in baptism will also bring us into His full resurrection life on that great day. Then death will be swallowed up entirely, the life of Jesus will be all in all, and the feast of God will begin in earnest, in a remade creation.

Joy knew the answer to the question Thomas asked: Jesus is the way to life now as well as to life then. And we wait with her for the completion of the way, when all those who believe Jesus will be with Him where He is; and He is with His people now, wherever His Word and Gifts are heard and received. So do not let your hearts, do not let your minds, be troubled. Believe the Father and the Son. Say with the hymn: “Be still, my soul; the hour is hast’ning on when we shall be forever with the Lord, when disappointment, grief and fear are gone, sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored. Be still, my soul; when change and tears are past, all safe and blessed we shall meet at last” (LSB 752:4).

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, 2/23/23

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