Friday, November 14, 2014

Christian Burial of Rosemary Ziersch

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.

Text: John 11:25
Theme: Resurrection and Life

Dear family, friends and loved ones of Rosemary; Deb, Kym, Brenton, and especially you; Rod,

The struggle has ended; the celebration has only begun. Today the Spirit can temper our sense of grief and loss with a genuine appreciation for the blessings Rosemary now enjoys. As the apostle says, she now sees God “face to face.”1 Rosemary is at peace. We have it on the highest authority, the very decree from heaven, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘they will rest from their labour, for their deeds will follow them.’”2 Of course, Rosemary’s rest doesn’t mean inactivity. Undoubtedly the vitality she possessed on earth is even more magnified in heaven.

Dear friends, death is as common as the rising of the sun; a regular occurrence that collides with our daily routines and throws them decidedly, if only temporarily, out of balance. Even though death is commonplace- and we all must face it- it is always momentous. Something much more than a physical life reaching its conclusion is involved. Eternal things are at stake. Death brings us face to face with the big questions of existence, the deepest mysteries and the thorniest conundrums.

When reflecting on the death of a loved one honesty compels us to consider our own mortality. Nothing in this earthly realm is more final than death. It is an invincible power. We are defenceless to stand against it. We do ourselves no favours by ignoring it or brushing lightly past it. Death is not child’s play. It is deep, dark, and sinister. Death is not natural. It has a malicious cause. The Holy Scriptures say, “The wages of sin is death.”3 Because all are sinners all must face it. We live in a fallen world

Into this fallen existence comes an infant in a manger who grows up to be nailed to a cross. God sent His Son, in the flesh, to suffer and die. Divine intervention was required to rescue the human race. Here is where the skepticism of the world is met head on. Who wouldn’t have been filled with skepticism when Christ replied to the distraught Martha saying, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die.”4 They were filled with more doubt and even derision as He stood outside the grave of Lazarus- a man four-days dead- and called, “Lazarus, come out!”5 But the proof was in the pudding. And it was only a preview of His own victory over the grave. Christ is the immortal God who has conquered death itself. Easter is the bedrock of Christian truth. Rosemary held this conviction firmly and with transparent honesty.

Rosemary wasn’t pretentious in any way. She was a straight shooter; always calling a spade a spade. She was full of life, vitality, and good humour. Her laugh was always recognizable. She had a cheery disposition, determination, and tenacity. Her perseverance in overcoming the incapacitation of her stroke was remarkable. She fought on for five years not in bitterness but embracing her life in its altered dimensions. A stroke crippled her body but it could not cripple her spirit. She was a devoted wife and loving mother and nana.

On her last full day on this earth I asked Rosemary if she had any fears about going to heaven. Without hesitation her face grimaced in a fashion which indicated I had asked a pointless question and then she said emphatically, “None at all, the sooner the better!” She wasn’t just telling the local pastor what she thought he wanted to hear. She was filled with conviction. The time had come and she was ready. She looked forward to being relieved from the burdens of her deteriorating body. She longed to be freed from the mental and emotional strain of the daily grind. She had no reservations; believing that she lived a blessed and full life.

What could give her such confidence? Rosemary wasn’t silly, and her mind certainly wasn’t failing. Her trust rested not on hollow promises but on the fact Christ could not be held in the grave. She knew this meant that His crucifixion had freed her from the guilt of sin, that forgiveness was valid; that death does not have the final say. She received the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood insisting that the head of her bed be raised to what she considered a more reverent position. Nurtured one more time by His gifts and promises she was even more at ease. Though a sinner like all of us she knew she was saved by grace.

Rosemary was a flower in her little patch of God’s garden. Colourful in personality she added flavour to the lives of many. Her season in this short span of time we call temporal life has ended. The Scripture reminds us, “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.”6 Her soul has been gathered into the fellowship of the faithful in the presence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit where she awaits with us all the great resurrection of the Last Day. Secured in God’s eternal fortress no harm can reach her. No stroke can cripple her, no pain can burden her; no worry can trouble her. And there is nothing to subdue her laughter. The promise of her baptism has come to fulfillment.

And this is our only source of true comfort. The Holy Scripture says, “God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him.”1 Thessalonians 5:10 She now enjoys the communion of God in a manner that is beyond the widest limits of our imagination. Rod, the days ahead for you cannot be scripted. The journey of grief is unique to each of us. But as you reflect on the gift that Rosemary was to you as a wife and as a mother to your children take comfort in knowing that she is whole again; healed and restored never to be afflicted. Rosemary now rests from her labours. She has received the crown of everlasting life. Thanks be to God for His immeasurable love. Amen

+ In nomine Jesu +

Christian Burial of Rosemary Jennifer Ziersch
14 November 2014
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 1 Corinthians 13:12
2 Revelation 14:13
3 Romans 6:23
4 John 11:25
5 John 11:43
6 Isaiah 40:8
7 1 Thessalonians 5:10

Monday, November 10, 2014

Twenty-Second Sunday After Pentecost (A) 2014

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti Amen +

Text: Matthew 25:10
Theme: The Door of Heaven

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The shadows of the Church Year are lengthening. We are nearing the end of the cycle that celebrates the gracious intervention of God into our lives through His Son, Jesus Christ. The Scriptures through which the Holy Spirit speaks to us today prepare us for the end of time and the commencement of eternity. The Bible leaves little to doubt about the Lord’s intention. “The Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”1 May God prepare us for this hour of glory.

Today Jesus seeks to jolt His hearers out of apathy through the parable of the ten virgins. The context is a First Century Jewish wedding in which it was customary for the groom and his attendants to process to the house of the parents of the bride. They would be joined by the bride and her family and then process to the groom’s home where the wedding would take place and the celebration, typically a week in length, would commence. Like today, weddings were announced well in advance and involved much preparation by everyone involved. Our story involves five ‘wise’ virgins and five ‘foolish’ ones. All went with their lamps to meet the groom but when he was delayed they fell asleep. When the call went out the foolish ones were found to be out of oil for their lamps. When they went out to buy some the bridegroom came and the wise virgins went into the wedding celebration.

Now we reach the critical juncture. The Bible says, “The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.”2 This is the turning point of the parable: The door was shut. When the foolish virgins return later, they say, “Lord, Lord, open the door for us! But He replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’”3 Were this a typical wedding celebration the response would have been almost unthinkable. How could the bride’s attendants be denied entry! It now becomes crystal clear that the final coming of Christ, the Bridegroom, is spoken of. The foolish virgins say, “Lord, Lord!” But the time is already past. He does not know them. That is, they were not true believers who endured in faith to the end. When God drops the curtain on history there will be no curtain call.

The door was shut. The foolish virgins were on the outside of God’s eternal grace. The shutting of the door is the final chapter in the book of history, the final act in the divine drama of judgment and salvation. But is should not come as a surprise. It is not without preview, precedent, or parallel. In a previous chapter of the history of redemption we are reminded that when Noah’s family and the animals were on the ark, “The Lord shut him in.”4 The ark was the sole place of salvation. Everything shut outside perished. The earth was purged of sin and Noah and the creatures emerged to inhabit a new and transformed world. Not surprisingly St. Peter says that it symbolizes baptism in which God washes us clean and makes us new.

Sin seals shut the door of heaven. We are powerless to unlock it or break it down. The essence of repentance is to recognize that we need help. There exists One more powerful than all humanity combined. His blood covers all sin. His death sustains all life. His life overcomes all death. Of Him the Scripture says, “These are the words of Him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What He opens no one can shut, and what He shuts no one can open.”5 Christ is the door of heaven.

It is difficult when studying this parable to know exactly what symbolism is intended. The virgins appear to be the same except for their preparedness in regards to the oil and the lamps. Does the oil represent faith, love, or perhaps the Holy Spirit? Nevertheless the main point is unmistakably clear, “Keep watch, because you do not know the day or hour.”6 Such watchfulness involves perseverant faith and it can only take place under the shadow of the cross. The wisdom of the world laughs at the meaning of Jesus’ crucifixion but for Christians it is the wisdom of salvation.

We must understand beyond all doubt that for every man, woman, and child on the face of this earth the door has not yet been shut. In fact, in this life, until we die or until the Lord comes again, the door is only shut by our own unbelief. No one can be saved except by the Lord’s doing. Yet, no one can perish except by their own fault. The grace of Christ is universal. He died for all. No sin is left un-atoned for. No sinner is left without hope. Yet those who deny the need for His grace begin swinging the door shut. And once they have driven the Holy Spirit away the door latches. It is not within our power to open the door. But, rest assured, Christ never turns away the repentant soul.

Inside the banquet hall the eternal wedding feast of the Bridegroom has already begun. The banquet hall is lit by God’s own radiance. The saints feast on sumptuous fare. Their souls are white as the driven snow. Yet even now we participate in the glory of that celebration. The Holy Spirit lights our paths. The bridegroom gives us of His own body and blood. The words of salvation sink into our ears and fortify our hearts. Our baptismal robes of righteousness cover our sin-soiled souls.

The reality that St. John saw has been secured for us, “After this I looked, and there was before me a door standing open in heaven.”7 Jesus said, “I am the door of the sheep…I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he shall be saved.”8 As the shadow of the Church Year’s approaching end fades to the dawn of Advent may the Holy Spirit fill you with peace and joy as you look forward to the celebration of the wedding feast unencumbered by the weight of sin. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

1 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17
2 Matthew 25:10
3 Matthew 25:11-12
4 Genesis 7:16
5 Revelation 3:7
6 Matthew 25:13
7 Revelation 4:1
8 John 10:7, 9

Twenty-Second Sunday After Pentecost
9 November 2014
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt