Listen to it:
“The Way to the Father”
John 14:1-6, 27
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Family and friends of Ardith, beloved in Christ. Even though I did not really know Ardith, I know Jesus. Even though I didn’t know her, Jesus knew her. And His promise to her, as to all His people, is found here in John 14. “In the House of My Father are many rooms. And if it was not so, would I have said to you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, again I am coming and I will take you to Myself, in order that where I am, you may be also. And where I am going, you know the way” (John 14:2-4). He began His preparations in Ardith herself on October 3, 1926, when she was brought under the Reign of Jesus, joined to Him in Holy Baptism. Actually, as St. Paul tells us in Ephesians, the Father’s preparations began a long time before that, as He chose her and us in Christ “before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:4, ESV). Though Ardith was born, like all of us, in a state of separation from God because of sin, Jesus covered her with His own blood and righteousness, and on nothing less was her hope built. You all know better than I do the beauty of her relationships with you and all the other people with whom her life intersected. You know how fitting “Joy” was to be her middle name. You know with what tragedies she struggled and you watched as death reached back into her life and tried to take her mind and her relationships and her speech. Even so, Jesus’ blood and righteousness her beauty are, her glorious dress. And, as Romans 8 reminds us, there is nothing in all of creation—not sin, not sickness, not death—that can separate from the love of God in Christ Jesus those whom He has chosen. If Jesus makes a promise, He always keeps it. If Jesus says that He goes to prepare a place for you, then there is nothing that can be more certain. And if Jesus says that He is going to come back and take His own children to be with Him, there is no doubt that He will do what He says.
And that is the only place where our grieving can find its proper place. Though we may be glad of the mercy of God, that He did not allow her to suffer more than she did, that cannot make death any less than what it is. Death, no matter when it comes, is an enemy to the Christian. It is a conquered enemy, but an enemy nonetheless. No, our grief is Christian grief only insofar as we know that Jesus is preparing a place for us that is beyond the reach of death and tears and the decay of our bodies. While it is good that Ardith is, as Paul says, away from her body and with the Lord, that is not our ultimate peace and comfort. That is much closer to the world’s peace, which is almost always about avoiding pain and suffering. But Jesus says that He does not give as the world gives. Instead, Jesus’ peace is found on the far side of pain and suffering—not just any suffering, but His own. He Himself says, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32, ESV). He was lifted up on that blood-stained cross, arms outstretched in invitation to any who would come to Him and have their sins forgiven. Now “we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh…” (Hebrews 10:19-20, ESV). In the very flesh and blood of God become Man, we find our Way to the Father, just as Ardith was gathered into the embrace of those nail-marked hands. “Truly, truly,” Jesus says, “I am the door of the sheep…If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:7, 9, ESV). So it was for Ardith and so it is for you. Those in whom Jesus prepares a place for Himself by His Word; those in whom the Holy Spirit creates faith; those who love the Father because He loved them and sent His Son to die for them; these are the ones in whom the Father and the Son make their dwelling place (John 14:23). And those in whom the Father and the Son dwell will dwell forever in the place Jesus prepares for them. Jesus has promised, and He will return to gather all His children to Himself on a new earth under a new heavens. The separation of our bodies from our souls at death is not good, but it is not forever. It is good that Ardith’s soul rests from her labors, but that is not the end for Ardith or for us. We wait with her and all the saints for the great Day of the Lord, when our bodies will be raised, what death has put asunder will again be put right, and all things will be made new in the glory of the Lamb who was slain for the sins of the world.
Until then, we, too, have Jesus’ promise, which is the only answer to the facts of the casket and the cemetery: “’I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’” And we say with Martha, “’Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world’” (John 11:25-27, ESV). “After all, Christ must be everything: the beginning, the middle, and the end of our salvation….He is the first, the middle, and the last rung in the ladder to heaven (Genesis 28). Through Him we must begin, must continue, and must complete our progress to life” (Martin Luther, What Luther Says, 545). There was no other way for Ardith, and there is no other way, no other truth, no other life than Jesus Christ Himself. Rejoice in this fact, beloved: “Jesus lives! And now is death but the gate of life immortal; this shall calm my trembling breath when I pass its gloomy portal. Faith shall cry, as fails each sense: Jesus is my confidence!” (LSB 490, st. 5).
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 5/19/10