Date: October 6, 2021
Text: John 14:1-6
Occasion: Funeral of Mary Bennett
Locale: Zion Lutheran Church, Mt. Pleasant, MI
Introduction: A Unique Grief
Beloved family and friends, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen. Today, we mourn together the death of our beloved sister in Christ, Mary Ann Bennett. As Christians, it is a bittersweet day. It is bitter in that she is no longer with us, and that the darkness of death has taken her from us, as it will take all of us someday. Yet it is sweet in that she is no longer suffering as well as the knowledge that she is peacefully resting in our Lord, and the hope that we shall see her again at the resurrection when Christ returns in glory.
Because we are Christians, our grief is unique. We don’t grieve like everyone else. As we grieve and shed tears of sorrow, we at the same time share the joy of the Lord. Only Christians can smile at a funeral and have it be genuine 😊 because we know death is not final for the Christian. As St. Paul says, we do “not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep” [1 Thessalonians 4:13b-14]. What St. Paul says here echoes the words of Jesus for our meditation this morning.
The Way of Christ: The Cross and Resurrection
The words of our Lord chosen for today are repeated as follows, “‘Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.’ Thomas said to Him, ‘Lord, we do not know where You are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me'” [John 14:1-6].
Here, Jesus says He is going a certain way—to a place to prepare for those who follow Him. His disciple, Thomas, is confused. “We don’t know where You’re going! So, how can we know the way?” he asks. And Jesus responds, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” The way, then, is Jesus. If you want to know the way to salvation, follow Jesus. Take Him at His Word.
He says these words not too long before His crucifixion. So, the way He is going is the way of the cross, that is, suffering. We suffer this life not only for being Christians but also the common human suffering we all share. Mary experienced this. She experienced it not only from the world and the devil, but also in her own sins, old age, heart attack, and stroke until death finally came. And today we experience it in our shared mourning.
Yet for Christians like Mary, bearing our cross as Christ bore His is not the only way we walk. For the way of the cross of Christ is also the way of resurrection, and Mary walked this way with her Lord. And she knew this. I didn’t have much time to get to know Mary as her new pastor, unfortunately; but one thing I knew for sure about her was her faith in this way of our Lord. She suffered, and although she felt it, it did not bring her down. And it wasn’t necessarily because of how strong her faith might’ve been because it’s not the strength of your faith that matters but the strength of the object of your faith that matters. And the object of Mary’s faith was Jesus, who is so powerful that He conquered death.
Most of the times I visited Mary, she was weak. But when I sat with her and spoke with her, I never saw weakness; I saw the strength of our Lord Christ in her, especially when we had our short liturgical services together. When she spoke the words of repentance, the songs of praise, and confessed the words of the Apostles’ Creed as a statement of her faith in Jesus, I saw the strength of Jesus that overcomes sickness and death. And when I gave her the Lord’s Supper, I saw in her the mighty life of Jesus.
Pat, you told me a story about Mary and the Lord’s Supper that I’ll never forget. The last time I visited Mary was two days just before she had passed, and at the time I didn’t know I had given her her last Communion. Physically, Mary was very weak, and I didn’t truly know how strong her spirit was until you had told me that after I ran into you and Lynne on my way out, you told her you guys talked to me and she looked up at you, smiled, and said, “Communion.” 😊 She smiled because one of the last things she consumed in this world was Christ—the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
This smile of hers reminded me of another one of her smiles during my visits. Every time we read through Psalm 23 together, whenever we got to the part that says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me,” she would smile. 😊 She never frowned in this valley of death, but rather she smiled because she knew the Light of the world walked beside her in this dark valley to be with Him on the other side.
It is also true, then, what Paul says, that, “For the sake of Christ… when I am weak, then I am strong” [2 Corinthians 12:10]. I believe Mary’s life is a witness to these words. Paul speaks on how the world sees Christ’s crucifixion as the “weakness” of God, because what kind of God would let Himself be killed? Yet, as Paul says, although Christ appeared in weakness on the cross, He did His mighty work of salvation and eternal life for all who believe in Him, like Mary [2 Corinthians 1:20-25].
And His mighty victory over death is proclaimed in His resurrection. Therefore, even though it appears that the weakness of death has taken Mary just as this way of the cross took our Lord, she has fallen asleep in the strength of the Lord and the way of His victorious resurrection that is to come. She fell asleep knowing the Lord has prepared a place for her. And when the Lord wakes her up on that Day, all of us shall see her gentle, strong smile once more and forevermore.
Let us pray: Eternal God and Father, look graciously upon the friends and family of Mary, who grieve the death of their beloved. Teach us to remember that all things work together for the good of those who love You. Help us to recall with thanksgiving the many mercies you gave her, especially that You adopted her as Your child in Holy Baptism and kept her in the true faith unto the glories of heaven. Comfort us with Your everlasting Gospel, and lead us by Your Holy Spirit until You take us with all Your saints to a joyous and blessed reunion in heaven; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.