[This was shared earlier today during the funeral for Phyllis, a disciple from the Living Water Lutheran Church family.]
As Phyllis' family, friends, and fellow Christian disciples gather to honor her memory, to grieve together, to laugh together, and to draw strength, hope, and encouragement from the God we know in Jesus Christ, it’s good to remember that today is Holy Saturday...and Easter is coming!
On the first Holy Saturday, you know, Jesus’ lifeless body lay in a tomb. Jesus' first disciples were left with their grieving thoughts.
What would they do now?
How would they cope with the void?
For those first disciples, Saturday was hard and sad.
And no matter how grateful you may be that Phyllis’ battle with an implacable enemy has ended and that her suffering has ended, for you, in many ways, you experience this Saturday much of what the first disciples experienced on that first Holy Saturday. It’s a day that’s hard and sad.
There is a void in the lives of those who called Phyllis mom, grandma, great-grandma, aunt, sister, friend, fellow believer. The love, the infectious laugh, the good story, the unshakeable devotion to family: all of these things are irreplaceable. Phyllis is irreplaceable.
But take heart, though it’s Saturday now, Easter is coming!
In the eleventh chapter of John’s Gospel in the Bible’s New Testament, we’re told about the reception Jesus received in Bethany from his friend, Martha.
Martha’s brother Lazarus, also a friend of Jesus, had died. Martha was upset that the One they had come to see as Lord, Jesus, hadn’t been there when Lazarus was suffering. Jesus hadn’t been there at the moment of Lazarus’ death.
Martha was disappointed and angry that Jesus, in Whom she had reposed so much trust, hadn’t been there for Lazarus. “‘Lord,’ Martha said to Jesus, ‘if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’”
But then, Martha said something remarkable to Jesus. “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
It’s not clear what Martha believed exactly when she made that statement. What is clear from the rest of her conversation with Jesus is that she had no idea that Jesus was about to raise Lazarus from the dead.
Despite her grief over her brother’s suffering and death, despite her anger and frustration with Jesus that Jesus had not come sooner, and despite not knowing what might happen next in her life, Martha still trusted in Jesus.
And this, when I think about it, was one of Phyllis’ remarkable qualities.
At the end, she didn’t deny the frustration or the pain of her circumstances. (She told me last week that the morphine took "some of the pain away.") Yet she kept going in faith.
Last Saturday when I visited her, I told her, “Phyllis, you have one of the most remarkably positive attitudes I’ve ever encountered.” She simply said, “Well, I always try to have a positive attitude.”
And, she didn’t make the mistake of blaming God for having a disease that exists because we live in a fallen and imperfect world--a Holy Saturday world. She still trusted in the God we meet in Jesus.
That’s why she listened to Luke’s account of Palm Sunday as I read it to her and talked about it with me for a few minutes, as we always talked about Scripture when we met. It’s why she gladly received Holy Communion.
Phyllis knew the truth of what Jesus told Martha later in their conversation at Bethany: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” Then, Jesus asked Martha: “Do you believe this?” And Martha, as well as she was able to at that moment, confessed her faith in God the Son: “Yes, Lord...I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
Earlier in His ministry, Jesus had told an old teacher of the Jews, Nicodemus: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Martha believed in Jesus. In purely human terms, that must have been pretty hard at that moment. But the Spirit of God stirred her to entrust her life and all of her hope in Jesus.
Today, two thousand years later, we have far more reason to believe in Jesus than Martha did at that moment. That’s because, shortly after Jesus’ conversation with Martha, though He was sinless, Jesus voluntarily took the punishment for sin you and I deserve, by dying on a cross, killing off the power of sin and death over the lives of those who like Martha, and like Phyllis, believe in Jesus.
You can trust a God Who dies for you because He loves you.
But, we have even more reason to believe in Jesus.
Things didn’t end on Good Friday, when Jesus died. They didn’t end on Holy Saturday, when His flesh and bones lay in a tomb. They didn’t even end on Easter Sunday, when God the Father raised Jesus from death.
And today, Jesus, Who raised His friend Lazarus from the dead that day in Bethany, can raise anyone out of the prison of sin and death. Jesus can give eternal life with God that begins here and now as we trust in Jesus to be our God, King, Savior, and Best Friend.
The promise of Easter belongs to all who turn from sin and the ways of this world and turn instead in faith to Jesus Christ.
It’s a promise fulfilled for Phyllis that she will enjoy for all eternity. She is now in the presence of the One in Whom she believed, free from the confinements of age and disease, free from grief, walking and laughing and celebrating at the great heavenly feast with all the saints who have gone before, including the mother she lost when she was just a baby and the husband she adored.
As I was walking out of the door to Phyllis’ hospital room last Saturday, I stopped, turned to her, and said, “I’ll see you soon, Phyllis.”
After I walked into the hallway, I wondered whether I should have said that. I knew that her condition was worsening, maybe I wouldn’t see her soon.
But then I smiled and thought, “If Phyllis is as close to death as her doctors seem to think, I will see her soon, at least in eternal terms, in the twinkling of an eye. I will see her beyond the gates of death when all who have trusted in Christ will begin a new chapter in our lives--an eternal chapter--bathed in the love of God, perfected by His grace and ready to laugh again, to love more, to be more than we can even ask or imagine on this earth.”
Let the thought of Phyllis resurrected bring you comfort today.
Let the example of her faith in Christ spur you to faith in Christ and to ever-deepening faith in Christ so that you too will know the resurrection with God.
Today, it’s Holy Saturday. But in Christ, Easter Sunday has invaded this darkened world.
Let Christ take you captive for the eternal kingdom of God by trusting in Him and so that, like Phyllis, you can be assured of an eternity of Easter Sundays. Amen