So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,  and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
On June 10, 1962 Debbie was confirmed in the faith given her by the Holy Spirit when she was Baptized. She confessed that faith, and was given as a remembrance, these words of Jesus. Encouragement to remain faithful to his Word. To abide in that Word, and to continue in the truth of that Word. Fifty-five years later, one day after her 69th Baptism birthday, the promise was fulfilled – she remained faithful to God and His Word, even unto death. But it wasn’t her promise that was important. It was God’s promise. It was his word. He is the truth. His word is Truth. And that true Word, taught to Debbie all those years ago, the truth confessed by her every day of her life, as she lived in the truth of God’s Word, as she rejected the errors of Satan, it was that truth that sustained her, kept her going all those years, and finally, at the end, brought her into the freedom of the heavenly kingdom.
Debbie was always on the go. If you wanted to get a hold of her, you had to plan ahead. A Phone call wouldn’t do it – she was likely out and about. Even in recent years with cell phones, you couldn’t expect to reach her if you just randomly called. She was probably busy. She liked to do things. She was working. Or once she retired, she was visiting, or dining, or at bible class. She didn’t just stay still. There was much to do. Much to enjoy about life. Friends to see, people to encourage. Wherever she went, it was with love and compassion, with joy. And she spread that love and joy throughout the community day after day and year after year.
She was always going. Always ready to lend an ear, to offer that word of encouragement. Boundless energy it seemed. Always one step ahead. And you could say that it lasted until that day when she was taken to Denver for surgery, that day when things were never the same for her, but even there, she was ahead of the curve. The church was waiting until March to start Lent this year. Debbie started it last October. A time of trial and testing. A time when all earthly props and supports gave way. She was tested by God. Refined by him. That’s how she saw it. She called it her tests. He’s testing me, she would say.
And yet, she remained hopeful that she might return home soon, by Thanksgiving. Then, by Christmas. Then, as soon as she could. Even as her condition made it clear that she would not return to Wheatland, to her house, to her old life, she remained hopeful. Working hard, struggling, enduring every test that God gave to her. Not complaining. Trusting that he had everything in his hands. That she would be ok in the end.
And now, here we are – in the church we’re still in Holy Lent. Moving toward the cross; still in our time of trial and testing. And this year, there’s an extra measure of trial. An extra – and very difficult part – to the testing. Because this year, we have to say goodbye to our sister, aunt, dear friend, sister in Christ. And that doesn’t seem right. It all happened too fast. She was supposed to get better. The great miracles of modern medicine were supposed to fix this. It’s not like she hadn’t faced down the odds before and won. Cancer, other problems. And it seemed any time she had to go to the doctor, there were always two or three other things that ended up slowing her recovery. This was just another of those, surely. Surely we would get to see her again, around town, at the church. But such was not to be. Our thoughts are not God’s thoughts. Our ways are not his ways.
A lesson she learned so well these last few months. Her tests. God was continuing to test her – give her an opportunity to cling to him alone, to trust that he had hold of her, and that she didn’t need anything else in this world but his Holy Word. The same word spoken over her all those years ago. And so, as her health and life slipped away, she clung ever more tightly to the promise given her in her Baptism. Clung ever more tightly to the truth of God’s Holy Word, that she so joyfully and freely confessed.
And this time, while we remain behind, once again, Debbie is off and running. We are just coming up to Holy Week. She’s already at Easter. Resurrection. The new life for all those who believe in Jesus, all those who will never die. She had her Ash Wednesday in October. She had her wandering in the wilderness these past five months. Her Lent finally ended, and Easter began for her before it comes for any of us – March 29, 2017. No more testing. No more opportunities to prove her faithfulness. For she has been found faithful. Approved by God. Holding fast to the promise of forgiveness for Jesus sake. She now rests from her labors, and all her works do follow her.
We continue on in this world, we continue our journey to the cross – the place of Jesus death. The place of his redemption. And we will hear the good news of salvation and resurrection in just a few more days. Holy Week begins this Sunday with the Palm branches and the hosannas. Then it’s the betrayal, the agony and bloody sweat, the cross and passion. And then the empty tomb, and the wonderful news – he is not here, he is risen. We still move slowly toward that.
Debbie is already there. And when we finally arrive at Easter morning, that message to the women at the tomb will be a bit more poignant this year. It will sound a little bit more urgent. Because the promise of the Resurrection, the promise of a joyful and glorious reunion in heaven for all those who believe in his word – is already being worked in Debbie. She remained in that word. She now rests in it, abides in it, forever. The truth of Jesus death and resurrection for her salvation. That’s where she trusted. Even during all the tests God gave to her.
Right at the end – that final day, she looked at her friends, and her sister, and she said, “Time to go”. As casually as if she was heading out for lunch, or off to the hairdresser. It was just time. No fussing. She was ready. And it was an easy thing for her to say; she knew where she was going. She was once again on the move, on the way, ahead of us all. We wanted her to stay a few more days. A few more months or years. To continue with us in this world. But she was already busy following her Savior – the one who is the way – following him through death, and into life. Finding the fulfillment of her Baptism, and the promise given all those years before. Fulfilling the promise God made to her in the word spoken at her confirmation. “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” And so, off she went. We remain behind – in this world that is a little bit less exciting. A little bit less fun. Without that gleam and sparkle in the eye. That wit that showed a deep love. We continue in this world, even as she rests in Christ. Her works meant nothing to her. She trusted in Christ’s works for her salvation.
But we remember the love she showed. We have Debbie and her life of faith as our example – trusting in God’s Word no matter what life sends at us, no matter how Satan may try to lead us astray. When we are tested, when we are troubled, when we face death each day, we can see in Debbie the simple and complete confidence in her Savior, and we are strengthened, and even comforted. We can know that we need not fear death. As surely as Debbie followed her Lord into death, and so also into life, so we will one day leave this world. And to all those who believe in Jesus, all those who abide, who rest in that word, he has promised that we will be carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom, just as Debbie was. That we will be eternally with our Lord Jesus Christ, who will feed us with the true food, and give to us the true drink – his body and blood sacrificed on the cross. Sacrificed for Debbie, for the forgiveness of her sins. For you, for the forgiveness of your sins. That you might also have the life she had – a life in Christ. A life not of death, but of resurrection. A life to the full.