Funeral of Thomas H. Petersen + 1942-2017 +
December 30th, 2017 A+D
St. John 1:1-14
In the Name of the Father and of the X Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Death is always complicated. It always comes with mixed feelings and emotions. There is a mixture of sadness at the loss, fear of how you will handle not having Tom around, guilt for things left unsaid—or at least the desire to have said more, and in this situation, there is relief that Tom’s suffering is over. There is even relief that your tiring work of supporting him—the way you have these last days and weeks is over; and you already even now have joy that Tom is with his Lord Jesus Christ. Your grief will express itself in different ways from the other people in your family as you all get used to not having him around. You have lost a husband, father, grandfather, and friend. Death is complicated.
It may even seem to be more complicated by the time of year in which this death came. But I’d like to offer an alternative view of that. To the world, Christmas seems like the absolute worst time of the year to lose a loved one. But while in the world, you are not of the world. You can see things differently as a Christian. The world has attempted to morph Christmas into a consumeristic, hedonistic celebration of gifts and excess. And even by its own standard, it has failed again this year. For when the music stops, and the trees come down, and the gifts are returned or exchanged, the emptiness and longing for something deeper and more meaningful is still there. No amount of giving or getting of worldly presents, no amount of consuming food or alcohol, or parties with friends can fill that void. Christians understand this.
But your Christmas was different this year. This year your Christmas was consumed by the important things in life—spending precious last moments with Tom. And in that way, your celebration this year was closer to the biblical expression of the birth of the Son of God. For in the fullness of time, when it was the perfect time, God sent forth His Son, born of the Virgin. God was born a man, so that He could take on flesh. The Light came into the dark world to overcome the darkness. His birth was anticipated by all the faithful since the time of Adam and Eve, since the time that darkness entered the world by sin. In Him was life, and the life was the light of man. The birth of Life Himself was necessary to combat death, to overcome the darkness. It was necessary for Him to be born so that He could put all His enemies under His feet. And the final enemy is death.
Yes, death is the enemy. It is against all that God wanted for man. He created life without death. Death is not natural as we understand nature, for God created all that is, and in the beginning, it was good. Then, with the temptation and sin of Adam and Eve, something foreign was introduced into the world. It wasn’t meant to be like this. God created nature to live, not die. God created man to live and not grow sick and die. But Satan tempted man to be like God and death came by sin. After the Fall into sin, God searched out Adam and Eve and gave them a promise that although death entered by sin, He himself would provide the sacrifice for forgiveness. The woman would conceive and give birth to the Seed who would put all things under His feet, even death. This Seed that was to be born would be a Savior to save men from their sins and to save them from eternal death. This Seed was the eternal God, who was there from the beginning.
Listen to St. John the evangelist, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” This is the mystery of Christmas. The eternal God came down into flesh by the overshadowing of the Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit. God remained true God and became true man, “not by the conversion of the divinity into flesh, but by the assumption of the humanity into God.” This is what is so important to us for our hope and for our salvation. God came into flesh to redeem flesh, to raise it up. He came as a man to redeem all of mankind, to make man participate in the divinity. He came to rescue man from death.
Listen to St. John again, “[T]o all who did receive [this Seed], who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” After our Lord Christ offered Himself up as the one, sufficient, atoning sacrifice for sin, by His death on the cross, He gave this sacrifice to men so that they might become children of God. Now men are not merely born of the flesh by their mothers, but born again, anew in the waters of Holy Baptism, born of God.
This is our confidence for Tom. He was born anew in the waters of Holy Baptism. He was numbered among God’s family. And throughout life, despite his sins and shortcomings, the Lord was merciful and kept bringing Tom back in repentance and kept Tom among His children by the forgiveness of his sins. And in the perfect time, God removed Tom from his sufferings.
In the last five years, since I have been Tom’s pastor, I knew him primarily by his participation in worship and his presence around the church. He was here at least twice a week. He regularly attended both Wednesday and Sunday morning services. He surrounded himself with God’s forgiveness in Word and Sacrament. He was where God’s people gather around the table, Where God feeds His children. In the last couple months, when I visited with him, he told me over and over how much more he prayed, now after the diagnosis. He prayed mainly for you all. In the last couple weeks, after the stroke, he worked hard to participate in the services in the hospital and in your home. I could tell that it took lots of effort for him to stay focused on what we were doing and saying in the service. It meant so much to him to pray the liturgy and receive the sacrament. Your Christmas present to him, Donna, that crucifix that you’re holding meant a lot to him. He wanted to hold it during our services. He understood that his hope for eternal life was founded upon His Lord dying on the cross for him. Tom died as a child of God. Tom died at a time of year that will remind you that the void caused by sin in all of us is only filled in the birth, death, resurrection, and forgiveness of Jesus—our God in the flesh.
Death is complicated. Death is the enemy. But our Lord has overcome death. And in a great reversal, although man fell into sin by being tempted to eat what God had forbidden, God now bestows life by beaconing all to eat His body and drink His blood in the Sacrament. The first eating broke fellowship with God, but this sacramental eating not only restores fellowship with God, but with all who eat of it in faith. This meal unites all Christians of all times, living or asleep. It is the meal where we gather together with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven—that company of heaven of which Tom is now numbered. You are not separated from your loved one forever. He is with you around the table in the eating of the Holy Sacrament, and soon you will be united with him—if you share his faith—in heaven. That is why we do not grieve like others do. For we have certain hope that our God loves us, redeems us, and will bring us together again. May we all depart in the peace that Tom now has.
In Jesus’ X Name. Amen.
(God made it so that Satan’s temptation in the garden, which brought death, is actually the way He bestows life, now. God became Man that man might become God. Man ate the fruit and died. Now man is beaconed by God to eat bread and wine, consecrated by the Word of God and live, making us partakers of the divine nature. Pius Parsch Treasury of Daily Prayer p. 1067-68).