In Memoriam +Paul E. Bercot 1923 – 2016+
April 11, 2016 A+D
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We must all pass through and endure the valley of the shadow of death. There is no escape. Paul’s first bitter taste of it was probably a telegram he received in Texas that announced he was needed home. His life wasn’t his own. He belonged to his family. His brother was dead and they needed him back at the farm. I don’t know if that was the first time he mourned for a close loved one or not, or if he was particularly close to that brother, but I know that it made an indelible impression. Young American and Canadian men were dying daily overseas, but hundreds mowed down by machine guns couldn’t match the cost of one farm boy in an accident in Saskatchewan for Paul. If he didn’t know it before, he knew it then: death was real, all men die, even good, strong, and healthy men, and he’d better be ready. And, of course, he lived the last year of his life without his dear Ruth.
If you live long enough, you will bury your loved ones. You will feel death’s shadow on your heart. You will know the inheritance of the first Adam. And you will discover that your life is not your own.
But if our life is not our own, it is because we belong to one another. We do not walk through the valley of the shadow of death alone. And if we have a family, people to whom we belong, even more do we belong to God, our Savior, who makes us His family by grace, who has bought us with His own Blood. In Him death itself is a passage to life. We do not abide in the valley. This world is not our home. We are all only passing through.
So also did Our Lord pass through the valley of the shadow of death. He felt that shadow at the death of Joseph and famously at the death of his friend Lazarus. He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He mourned. He wept. Thus we do not mourn as those without hope, as though the valley is the destination or has no end, or we do not have an Advocate who knows our pain. We mourn as those who walk not only with each other, but also as those who with walk with Jesus. We walk in the hope of passing through this valley and coming to the City not built with hands.
We are passing through. We are moving on. We are traveling forward to the green pastures won by Christ to which Paul and Ruth, in the Lord’s mercy, have already come. Its joys so far exceed the joys and goodness of this live that they cannot be compared.
We could not make this journey if Our Lord Himself had not also made it for us. He walked through this Valley, not only as one who mourned but also as One who died. He tasted death and Hell’s justice, that we might never taste of it. He died, that we might fall asleep. The rod and staff that comfort us fell heavy on Him who was punished for our sins, who was pierced for our transgressions, who was crushed for our iniquities. The rod and the staff together make the blessed Cross, just as the two sticks that the widow was gathering have always been considered typical of the holy tree of salvation. In the valley of the shadow of death, the Cross of Jesus Christ, the rod and staff upon which He was crucified for us, by which He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows, is our comfort and hope. David says: “Thou art with me, Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.” What could that mean, except that the crucified Lord is risen and comforts us as He did St. Thomas the week after Easter with the marks of His crucifixion? What could it mean but that the risen Lord is present with His people in Word and Sacrament even in the midst of death?
Here is our hope, our comfort. The souls of Paul and Ruth have departed out of this world to be with Christ, which is better for them but leaves us poorer. The shadow is still upon us. We must now walk on without them for they have departed in the sign of faith, as the Baptized, with true hope, with confidence that the reward of faith won by Christ is given to them, but we are still here.
And while here we note this: the graves of Christians are beds for the bodies. I actually overheard one of Steve’s little granddaughters say that exact thing at the funeral home yesterday. She asked if Papa was sleeping. Then, pointing the casket, she asserted that he was in bed. We might be tempted to think that was cute. We shouldn’t. It wasn’t cute. It wasn’t a childish mispronunciation like an inability to say refrigerator or spaghetti. She was right. The graves of the saints are beds for the bodies. It is where they await the resurrection on the last day. The Lord’s sheep are penned safely in theirs graves until the morning of the Resurrection.
But already now, while their bodies sleep, their souls are with their Redeemer. He has bought them with His own Blood and now, in His mercy, He has brought them to His nearer presence. Papa’s body is sleeping. His soul is in joy and felicity with Jesus.
For He has shepherded them through death to the green pastures that He won for them by His atoning self-sacrifice and gift. For this they were anointed, in the valley named Ohio or Saskatchewan, in the still waters of Holy Baptism. There God declared them to be His children and Himself to be their God and the Bercots don’t need me to tell them that adoption makes real sons and daughters. They were adopted into God’s family in Holy Baptism. They also enjoyed a foretaste of the green pastures in the Holy Communion. He fed them in the presence of their enemies upon His risen Body and Blood. They had a promise of these pastures in the Absolution where He declared them righteous and restored their souls and gave them strength to keep walking. They learned of it, of the green pastures, in His Word and found hope. For they heard His voice in the Scriptures. They knew their Shepherd and His goodness. And in the Psalms they learned the songs of heaven so that they might keep walking and not stop in the valley. And in this way they are an example for us, of how to keep walking, of how to abide in the Word of God and His promises instead of in our sins and self-pity.
And now the good work begun in Paul and Ruth is one step closer to completion. Their bodies sleep and their souls are free of want, of sorrow, and of pain. Goodness and mercy followed them all the days of their lives. Now they dwell in the house of the Lord forever and they wait for you to join them.
There is one more step. It is not done because you are not yet with them. The resurrection on the last day will bring a reunion like no other. That is why the souls of the martyrs cry from under the altar in Revelation 6, “How long, O Lord?” They are eager to reunited with their bodies in the new heavens and the new earth and they are even more eager for the Church to be one, for the end of the Church Militant and the end of all Christian suffering and sorrow, and the end of separation and death.
Yea, though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil: for thou art with us; thy rod and thy staff they comfort us. The end of the tale is not yet told. Our sadness will not abide forever. While our joy is not yet full, it will be and it will not end for Jesus lives, He abides with and comforts us.
Alleluia. He is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
 J. M. Neale, A Commentary on the Psalms from Primitive and Mediæval Writers: Psalm 1 to Psalm 38, Second Edition., vol. 1 (London; New York: Joseph Masters; Pott and Amery, 1869), 312.