The Prayer Service for Henrietta Gebhardt

“The Way Prepared”

John 14:1-6

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Jesus says to you today, Do not let your hearts be troubled, stirred up, disturbed (John 14:1). This is not the equivalent of saying, “Don’t worry; be happy.” Jesus isn’t saying that things will get better with time, although they sometimes do. But mere words are not going to take away the fact that Henrietta is separated from us by death. The fact that she lived for 91 years doesn’t make this easier to deal with. She was yours, you loved her and she loved you, and that’s not something that human words can replace. That she died during the time of Christmas will likely make this time more difficult for you in the future.

So what can Jesus mean by telling us not to let our hearts be troubled, not just on this day, but every day? He explains: “Believe in God and believe also in Me. In the House of My Father are may dwelling places; if it were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also will be” (John 14:1-4). There is only one place where troubled hearts are put to rest, and that is in God. And He tells His disciples that they know the way to that place; they know where God is, and they know how to get there. Jesus says, “I myself am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (14:6). Jesus is the way, and He Himself is preparing the way for His disciples, and for all who believe through His Word—not the word of a man only, but the Word of God itself.

Henrietta knew the way, because she heard the Word. I had the privilege of bringing Jesus’ Word and His Body and Blood to her and Freddie for almost five years. To give them the same promise that Jesus gave His disciples: that He was going to prepare a place for them to dwell with Him and with His Father. Where was He going, when He said those words? Not to heaven, but to the cross. He was going to the cross to clear the way between people and God, a way that people litter and crowd and clutter with their sin. Sin—the things we do because we are sinful—that’s what closed the way to God. Your sin, my sin, Henrietta’s sin: it has to be cleared away, it has to be removed, it has to be taken out of the way. And Jesus has done it. He went to the cross to prepare the way, and His Word and His Baptism and His Supper are the ways He brings us to be with Him after His Resurrection. He has not failed to keep His promise to Henrietta. He rose from the dead, and because she heard Jesus and received His gifts, He will come again and raise her body and yours from the dead. Only because of this promise, and the One who makes it, can our hearts be put to rest, even when everything around us is troubled, stirred up, disturbed.

I think one of the reasons that it is so much harder to deal with death at the time of Christmas is because we have created a sort of false picture of happiness, lights, and decorations, where there is no room for the grief that comes with living in this world. We have done it also with Jesus, making Him a pretty little baby who never cries. But if you know the story, you know that He was born to die. You know that the cross was made of wood, just like the manger. You know that the eternal Son of God took on a human body for the particular purpose of going to the cross to die, and by His death, prepare a place for you with Himself and with His Father. Because He did not stay dead, we still celebrate His birth into this world. And that can help us during this time, when the world expects us to plaster smiles on our faces, but we only want to cry. Jesus was born, just as Henrietta was born. Jesus died, just as Henrietta has died. But here is our comfort and our hope: Jesus rose from the dead so that Henrietta, and all those who are on the way, and in the truth, and have true life, will also rise one day. In that promise, do not let your hearts be troubled. Henrietta’s soul rests with her Lord, and soon her Lord will come and raise all the bodies of the dead, and give eternal life to her and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.

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, 1/4/12


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