[This message was shared earlier today during the funeral of Norma, a member of the congregation I serve as pastor.]
JD, Tom, Dan, Ed, Susan, and family, God’s blessings of peace, comfort, and hope be with each of you today and always.
When Susan texted me last Tuesday night to say that Norma had passed away, a passage of Scripture crossed my mind, Psalm 116:15: “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful servants.” I thought of how the lives and the deaths of all of God’s people are important to God.
And later, as we prayed and spent time together in Norma’s room at Bethany, another passage struck me, this one from the apostle Paul: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). Norma could say the same thing.
Over the past nearly six years, I have gotten to know something of Norma: her love for her family, her essential sweetness, her orneriness, and her laugh. Her personality shone through in many ways to the end. I enjoyed visiting with her and JD, first in their home, later at Bethany.
Over the past few days, the family has given me a more detailed picture of Norma. They’ve told me how, as JD put it, “she jumped into motherhood” and later, jumped into grandmotherhood, buying a grandma shirt as soon as she knew a grandchild was on the way. How she was an accomplished seamstress, making both Barbie clothes and later a prom dress for her daughter. How she participated in the needlework ministry at Epiphany. How she loved to travel.
I also learned how much she loved you, JD, telling Susan after her diagnosis, “You need to take care of your dad.” I observed, JD, how well you took care of Norma, displaying an unflappable love that was an inspiration.
I have also learned how this entire family is knitted together in a love that allows for a lot of humor and gentle ribbing, sure signs of a strong family.
And, in Norma, and the rest of the family, I have seen a faith in Jesus that cherishes every opportunity to hear God’s Word and to receive Christ’s body and blood.
You should know that you are in the prayers of our congregation and in mine as well.
There are some people who labor under the false impression that Christians shouldn’t grieve. In fact, there’s a sense in which it’s probable that Christians grieve more deeply than other people. When the passionate, empathetic love of God given to us in Jesus enters our lives, it opens our hearts to more deeply love other people, including our family members.
When Jesus visited the gravesite of His friend Lazarus, we’re told that He wept. Whether His tears were from grief for Lazarus or grief for Lazarus’ family and local friends, or some of both, when we consider that Jesus, God the Son, could feel sadness, it should show us that the grief of losing loved ones is both deeply human and deeply divine.
But it is true that, as Paul writes in another place in the New Testament, followers of Jesus are enabled to “not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
Believers in Jesus do have hope and it’s of this that I want to remind you this morning. Jesus talks about this in the verses from John we read just a moment ago, John 14:1-6.
In this passage, Jesus is speaking with His followers, His disciples, shortly before His arrest. The disciples have a sense of foreboding. They’re sure that the powers of religion and state will array against Jesus.
They were right to feel this way. In fact, even though Jesus had warned them that in Jerusalem, He would be tortured and executed, then rise from the dead, that His purpose for being on the earth would only be fulfilled if He did these things, the disciples never seemed to fully understand what He was saying! They were always trying to find a way out for Jesus. He insisted that the way of the cross was the only way He could bear the sins of the world and destroy the power of sin and death over the lives of those who dare to trust in Him.
Into the sadness and grief of His disciples Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?”
This is an incredible promise! Jesus has prepared a place in God’s house for all who believe in Him.
He goes on to say, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”
True to form, the one we call doubting Thomas, who Jesus, when you look at the Greek in which the New Testament was written, actually described as unbelieving Thomas, says He has no idea the way that Jesus is going and asks how they could possibly know about it.
Jesus makes things clear when He says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
In the days to come, I hope that your grief will be lightened not only by the happy memories of a wonderful wife, mother, grandmother, family member, and friend. And not only by the comfort of knowing Norma is now strong and whole and living in the presence of the Lord Jesus. But also by this: That Jesus is your way to life with God, comfort from God, hope from God today; your way to the place that Jesus has prepared for you as you entrust your lives to Him.
The place Jesus has prepared for you is one in which you too will live in His presence and where one day, you will be reunited with that child of God whose life we remember today.
You will once more be with Norma. Amen
[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]