A Memorial Service Homily March, 2016
A Memorial Service Homily delivered March 21, 2016
Psalm 23 The Divine Shepherd A Psalm of David.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures;
he leadeth me beside still waters;
and restoreth my soul.
He leadeth me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff—
they comfort me.
Thou prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
thou anointest my head with oil;
my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Romans 14:7-9 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
John 14:1-6 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Jesus the Way to the Father
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many mansions. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
I know that the deceased loved the scripture verse John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” This verse is the good news in a nutshell; the good news that our faith in Christ promises us eternal life, which begins with our baptisms. This is also the promise of God for the deceased and in which promise she lived and died. As the scripture states, she may have died, yet shall she live, because with Christ she will be raised up from the dead and become alive in God, who is not a God of the dead, but of the living, for all who entrust themselves to our heavenly Father.
That is why even while walking through the “valley of the shadow of death, we fear no evil” because we will dwell in the House of the Lord forever. Now the “shadow of death” is the fear that it casts over our lives. But when we believe in God, then we exclaim: “Christ is raised from the dead! So death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory? So rather than living in the shadow of death, we live in the sunshine of the Resurrection, in which goodness and mercy follow us all the days of our lives, while we anticipate the joy of dwelling in the House of the Lord hereafter.
Now we should not think that Jesus’ Father’s House, as we imagine a house, is filled with mansions. Maybe houses could fit inside mansions, but mansions? How can they be inside a house? Jesus uses the word “house” to designate the whole realm of heaven in which God reigns. We might think of it like the White House standing for our whole country. The title “Pharaoh” is old Egyptian for the house of the king, meaning his reign over all Egypt. Think of the house of David. A house can stand for a dynasty, a rule, a realm. So Christ has gone before us to his Father’s heaven and there he is preparing a place for the deceased and for you and me. While on earth, Jesus complained that “foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man had no place to lay his head.” And that is why he prepares mansions for those who believe in him up in heaven; mansions to which those in Piedmont cannot compare, nor Trump’s Mar-a-lago, his mansion in Florida, because eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor can any heart imagine, the home Christ is preparing in heaven for those who love him and are called to his purpose.
Christ compares suffering and dying to the labor, the contractions of a woman in child-birth. We suffer and die, but then experience the birth, which is made out of trust and faith, by which we enter heaven. Martin Luther of old says, that that is why the death of God’s saints is called Natale, or their birth. Now compare the experience of the baby in its mother’s womb to the great big world it enters when it is born. The baby in the womb cannot imagine this world, this heaven and earth that a-waits it. Martin Luther said that this world is as small as a mother’s womb when compared to the incredibly more spacious new heaven and new earth in the mansions of God’s heavenly house, the place where God reigns.
So let us not live to and for ourselves or die to ourselves, but point our whole lives toward Jesus Christ and our neighbors. When in faith we point our whole lives to Jesus Christ our Lord, Christ becomes the life of our lives, the strength of our strength, the light by which we see light.
When we belong to Jesus Christ our Lord, God lives our lives, and that means here and now after our baptisms. How wonderful that the deceased was baptized. How wonderful that she accepted communion. The day before she died, she still gave me a great big smile and waved goodbye.
Therefore she also stands on the rock-solid promises of Christ and she also lived and died in the promises of God. Because Christ died and lived again, so that he could be the Lord of both the dead and the living. So the deceased may have died in that room of the nursing home, but she is now alive in God and someday we will all be reunited again. ““For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Dear God, our heavenly Father, we love you and are called to your purpose. We thank you for this your promise. Amen.