Here is the Gospel proclaimed to the family and friends of Berniece Wilson, who was called to her heavenly home on Maundy Thursday evening. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints!
Two days ago, the church heard the good news from the angel at the tomb: He is not here, he has risen! Two days ago we heard the good news that death is dead. Where O death is your victory? Where O death is your sting? The sting of death is sin and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. For I Know that My Redeemer Lives, and that at the end he will stand on the earth. And though my skin is destroyed, yet in my flesh shall I see God, whom my eyes shall behold, and not another. Such wonderful news: Life reigns.
Today we are reminded that the victory is not yet as final as we would like it to be. Death has lost its hold, but it is still there. It still claims even the saints of God. Today we lay to rest our beloved sister in the faith. Thirteen days before she died, Berniece lost her husband. The day after that funeral, she entered the hospital for what would be the last time.
There are a lot of theories – it was just her time to go, she was so concerned for him that she wouldn’t let herself get sick, she didn’t want to live without him, the stress of losing him weakened her immune system, there’s probably some truth to all of those. She did love Skeet, she didn’t want to live without him, she had been sick for a while. That’s all true. But the physical or emotional reasons for her death don’t make it any easier on those who loved her. They don’t make it easier for a daughter to suddenly survive without either parent. Orphaned suddenly after many years is still orphaned. It doesn’t make it easier for those who knew her for so long as a friend. Her directness, but always with a good humor, was one of a kind. We will miss it, as we will miss her. And even the joy of the resurrection so recently celebrated can not budge our sadness. Knowing of the life of the world to come doesn’t take away the pain and grief today.
This time of year will always be a tough one – Maundy Thursday she died. Two days after Easter she was buried. The year without a resurrection. We hear that Jesus was raised. But Berniece was not.
We must however add a word to that. She has not YET been raised. It’s the waiting that’s the hardest part. Because we have to do it without her. And while the Easter Gospel does not undo the sadness of losing Berniece, it does give us joy in the midst of our grief and sadness.
Know this. God hates death. He hates it with a passion. He hates it so much that he sent his Son to abolish it. And Jesus did that by going into death. God knows what it means to lose a loved one to death. He knows what it means to go into death. In the mystery of the Holy Trinity, God, although one, did both of those things. He sent his Son into death, and He as the son went into death. Because He hates death that much.
When World War 2 broke out, Berniece went to work helping to supply the troops. And yet, as important as that work was, the only way to win the war was to send our men and women deep into enemy territory. To totally vanquish the enemy men had to be sent into harms way.
So it was for Jesus. He was sent into harms way. He went into enemy territory. Into this world of sin and death. And then he went into death itself, in order to destroy the power of death once and for all. And he marched through Hell proclaiming his victory. That’s how much God hates death. He hates seeing his people die.
Death is given power through sin. That’s what we are: Sinners. And that’s why we face death. But that’s what Jesus came to take care of. He took the sin away in his death and resurrection. So now we, who still live in this sinful death-filled world, who are ourselves sinners, and so subject to death, we have been given the promise of the resurrection of all flesh.
That promise begins already in this world. During her final stay in the hospital, as she started to slip away, there was time enough for her to once more approach the table of the Lord – or rather to have that table brought to her. She – one last time in this world – tasted the body and blood of Christ. She was fed with the food of immortality once more before facing death. And that food carried her through death and into the new life she now enjoys. She is at the banquet table that we only get to join briefly. While we have a foretaste of the feast to come, she feasts at the table where her cup runneth over, where the food never runs out, and the feast goes on. And for our part, even in our grief and sadness, we know that when we approach the table of the Lord, Berniece is there. Not that she joins us, but that we join her. We join with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. That’s what Jesus death and resurrection give us. We are raised up to join that heavenly chorus as we feast on the body of the Lord.
The grief and sadness still linger, seemingly unmoved and unmoving. But the joy of the resurrection, the hope that is ours through Jesus Christ our Lord, these also arise as we hear the promise, the promise that was not just for Berniece, but is for you and for your children. The promise of new life in Jesus Christ, a new life that Berniece tasted in part here, but now knows in all its fullness. We wait for that day when the majesty and glory of heaven will be finally and completely revealed in Jesus Christ, and the waiting is not easy. But Jesus already went through it, he already went into death for you, and He came out alive on the other side. This is the promise that sustained Berniece in times of trouble, and that carried her out of this world and into the heavenly kingdom of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, both now and forever. May God grant that the death and resurrection of our Lord sustain you as well, that the word of promise would strengthen and keep you unto life everlasting.