Funeral, Carol Forss
Ps. 130, Ps. 23, Ps. 121
Rev. David H. Petersen
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Carol was baptized into Christ as an infant. She confessed the Resurrection her whole life. But somewhere along the way, for a short time, she was mildly seduced into thinking that parts of Christianity were children’s tales and couldn’t withstand the rigors of objective scientific queries and logic.
Then the Lord sent her Pr. Charles Evanson. The Lord’s Ministry through Pr. Evanson was probably the most profound experience either Carol or John ever knew outside of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. He met their intellectual curiosity with both patient vigor and compassion.
I don’t know how dire the crisis of faith was, or if Pr. Evanson was even that aware of it, I don’t even know how aware of all this Eric and Neal were or exactly when it happened or how long it lasted, but I know that to Carol the Lord’s grace delivered through Pr. Evanson felt very much like a rescue from a dark pit. The Good News of Our Lord’s resurrection and His desire to have them back, indeed that He had never lost faith or doubted them, renewed her hope and optimism.
Pr. Evanson had an intellect that could match John and Carol. But that wasn’t what impressed them. What impressed them was that such an intellect submitted to the Holy Scriptures and without any coercion or used car salesman pitches, he confessed the simple hope that Jesus Christ has made atonement for the sins of the world in His crucifixion and has overcome death by His resurrection. He didn’t try to convince them or bully them or beg them. He didn’t try to make them feel guilty or scare them. He simply confessed: Jesus lives. He was confident in the power and beauty of God’s Word as the Messiah is there revealed and trusted that God’s mercy was enough for whatever ails us.
Whatever obstacles Carol faced or doubts she knew, they nearly disappeared when the pressure was removed. It was as though the dark clouds blew away and the sun shined down. The Scriptures weren’t an enemy to be overcome, to be proved or disproved. The Word of God revealed Himself as merciful to and accepting of sinners in the Messiah. Pr. Evanson taught them by example, rather than exhortation, how to submit and believe.
Thus did Carol find the Faith not bondage but liberty. It wasn’t her job to defend God. She didn’t have to have all the answers. Her faith could live alongside of doubt, her holiness declared by Christ was true because it was declared by Christ even if the old man in her still committed sins and harbored a few dark thoughts. She was holy because Christ died for her and said she was holy and she didn’t have to prove it to anyone, even herself.
Perhaps this is why she so loved to sing hymns. She loved to praise God but she also loved to confess the goodness of God’s grace. You won’t find anything shallow or sentimental in the hymns today. The hymns she loved best could stand up to her intellect and musicianship. Perhaps this is also what drew her to Psalter. Determined recently to overcome the effects of a stroke on her memory, Carole strove to learn, or re-learn, by heart the psalms from today’s service.
All three of these psalms have a dark side. Psalm 121 knows of sun and moon that smite, of evil that threatens the soul, and the need for help. Psalm 130 knows of depths of woe, of guilt, of waiting through long, sleepless nights, and the need for forgiveness and redemption. And Psalm 23 knows of the valley of the shadow of death, of threatening evil, and hunger. But they are far from songs of despair or mourning.
They are hopeful songs, songs of confidence and peace. If we sometimes fret away the night, the Lord never slumbers nor sleeps. He is not fretful, but watchful. He provides the Helper, the Holy Spirit, who gives the gift we need the most. The Lord Himself, our Holy Messiah, preserves us from an evil death and end. The last sentence of Psalm 121 is the Davidic blessing: “The Lord preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth and even forevermore.” It is the blessing given at Holy Baptism. Psalm 121 describes the reality of belonging to God, or Holy Baptism.
Psalm 23 confesses the Messiah as the Shepherd King. He rules over us by His grace, by laying down His life and taking it up again. He satisfies our hunger for righteousness. He leads us to Himself in the Holy Supper where we are anointed with the Holy Spirit, Christened as His own children and Bride, and given to eat of the banquet of His risen Body and Blood that bestows forgiveness, life, and salvation. Our cup runs over. His grace is not only bigger than our ability to contain it, but it is more than we need. He forgives more sins than we’ve committed. His love is without end or measure.
We associate Psalm 23 with funerals. But it is mainly a Psalm of the Holy Supper. It is no surprise, however, that we would get confused. The two are closely related and intertwined. The Supper is the foretaste of the Feast to come, which Carol now enjoys, it is what waits at the end of the valley of the shadow of death.
Psalm 130 is a penitential psalm. It confesses sin and guilt. If Thou, O Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But it also confesses hope. “There is forgiveness with Thee that Thou mayest be feared.” It calls us to expect the Lord, to expect and wait for mercy and relief. To fear the Lord is to submit, to believe and trust that He is God and is good and works all things together for good – whether it looks or feels like it or not. Our kinsman-Redeemer lives. He has overcome death and stands upon the earth. He redeems His Israel, the children of Abraham who have been begotten of faith, who are united in confession Abraham. Psalm 130 is the Psalm of Absolution.
I don’t know why Carol chose these psalms. I think they were simply some of her favorites. They spoke to her. I doubt she could have done better with a systematic, serious theological, historical, or literary study. And, it seems to me, that this choice was emblematic of her mature faith. She trusted in the Christ. She heard and received His Word with joy even as His Sacraments and grace. May God, in that same mercy, make her a model and inspiration for all of us.