Funeral Sermon for Gary Wayne Bruce, based on Ps 23; Rev 21:1-6 & Jn 14:1-6 by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson, May 13, 2010.
We do not know what the future holds. Our life consists of both the known and the unknown. If Gary, or you Martha, or all of you other family members and friends of Gary here today had to choose—I’m sure that neither Gary nor any of you would have chosen Gary to become ill and have that illness claim his life. Death comes to us all; yet, we struggle to accept it—especially when it claims a loved one whom we were hoping would live among us for many more years to come. Yes, I am certain that the loss of your loved one, Gary hurts you. At times like this we turn to God for help; who, like a Good Shepherd, promises to be with us.
In the twenty-third Psalm, the psalmist reminds us that God is not far away from us. Rather, in the psalmist’s words: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for you are with me…” Your beloved Gary has now passed through the valley of death. You feel his absence and miss him. Your tears are tears of pain and loss. There is an empty place deep inside your lives because Gary is no longer with you.
Yes, Gary has passed through the valley of death. To say this is not to be macabre, but to face life truthfully. Too much of our life is spent ignoring or repressing this reality and that is another reason why the death of a loved one affects us so deeply; we cannot avoid facing the power of death over us.
Yet, we trust the promise of God our shepherd, who through the words of the psalmist, said: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for you are with me.” Notice in these words that the valley of death is not our final destination. No. Rather, we walk through it. Just as a loving shepherd leads their sheep from dangerous to safe places; so God takes us by the hand and walks with us through death and leads us to the safe place of life everlasting—if we trust in God.
Here I am reminded of two other promises from the Bible that re-affirm this promise in our Psalm of God being with us. In Matthew’s Gospel, in fulfillment of a prophecy from Isaiah; when Jesus was born one of his names is Emmanuel; which literally means God is with us. And, in Matthew’s Gospel, the last words Jesus says to his disciples in the form of a promise are these: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” What a wonderful promise that is! Such a promise helps to ease your loss—giving you assurance about the eternal destiny of your loved one. The cross did not ultimately kill Jesus and keep him in the grave. No. Rather, God raised Jesus from the dead and Jesus has promised that he is with us always—even and especially during our most difficult times in life. We can count on him and place our trust in him and his word—which has the power to create new hope and new life.
So, in the midst of your sorrow and hurt; as you remember Gary and mourn his loss; I invite you to hear the following words of comfort and promise from God’s word: God's good news, which seems too good to be true—yet, it is true. Hear then what God’s word promises, in the Book of Revelation: “To the thirsty I will give water without price.” By contrast, the world says, “everything has a price tag.” Not so with God. God’s ways are not our ways; and so God promises: “To the thirsty I will give water without price—as a gift.”
Listen also to this promise from Revelation, God: “will wipe every tear from our eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away. And he who sat upon the throne said, ‘See, I make all things new.’” That means God makes Gary new too. Whatever problems, shortcomings or sufferings Gary had in this life will be taken away. Yes, some of us—preachers like me—may have wished he would have come to church. Yes, a few of us here today wish we could have been given the opportunity to know Gary more, yet, none of us knew him as thoroughly as God does. Thus it is ultimately into God's mercy that all of us shall find refuge. We may stay awake nights and worry, perhaps too much, about standing before the Judge of all peoples—including you and I. If we can approach the Almighty with faith as Christians, we can picture that day as a day of great joy, not a day to dread. You see, not one of us has a perfect faith. When the LORD asks, “Do you want justice?”, the best answer is “No, please LORD, I want mercy.” Another word for mercy in Revelation is “thirst,” asking for free water. The world answers “no” too often, but God says: “To the thirsty I will give water without price from the fountain of the water of life.” In the name of God Almighty, and for the sake of our brother, Gary, we ask for mercy, through the resurrection power of Jesus the Christ—who has conquered the powers of evil, sin, and death.
Today, in the church year, we celebrate Ascension Day, which is forty days after Easter Sunday—hence, it always falls on a Thursday. On this day we remember Jesus, who, as we confess in our Apostles’ Creed: “ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father.” In our text from John, Jesus hints at his ascension too when he promises that he is going to his Father’s house where there are many rooms; and he is going there to prepare a place for us. In this sense, Jesus by ascending into heaven is opening the doors of heaven for us. The ascension then reaffirms Christ’s divine saving power, and his place of honour beside God the Father in heaven.
So, may our hope and prayer for Gary and for you and me be the same as these words of scripture that we sing in the liturgy of the church, “Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, abounding in steadfast love.” Amen!