+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: John 11:21
Theme: No More Ifs
Dear family, friends, and loved ones of Margareta, Lyndon, Steven, Kathryn, Jillian, Bronwyn, Rosanne, and especially you; Cliff,
There are no more ifs, for Margareta. God has made good on His promise. She has been received into His magnificent presence. She has been released from the bonds of this mortal life. Martha had said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”1 She had hoped to spare her brother Lazarus from physical death. But Jesus had something more marvelous in mind. He said, “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.”2 Margareta lives. And she does so in a way that should be the envy of us all.
Dear friends, all of our greatest fears and hopes coalesce as we reflect on mortality. Death is a completely inescapable and ungovernable reality. We cannot circumvent it or negotiate with it. Death can be denied, but that hardly accomplishes anything. We will be subject to it. It is the inescapable punishment for sin. It’s not a subject to be avoided because it relates directly to our spiritual wellbeing.
Our sins, our failures, our regrets- the burdens carried deep in the heart about missed opportunities to reconcile relationships because we were too arrogant, too afraid, or too stubborn- what do we do with them on the deathbed? How can they be resolved? This is no theoretical concern. Deep wounds and lasting scars haunt many lives. The Scriptures warn us not to leave things too late, for our own sake and those we love. Most importantly, though, it’s never too soon to pour out our hearts to God. We cannot soften the heart or break the will of someone else. But our merciful Lord hears every plea of the humble soul. We commit things to Him. Only He can unlock doors that no human power can breach.
You see, no one can go from here to there under their own merit or power. Margareta was well-versed in the Scriptures. She knew that. Her faith wasn’t shallow or hollow or showy. She walked the walk and talked the talk. She knew life was a gift. The Scripture says, “This is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son of God has life; He who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”3 And again, “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God.”4
Heaven is not the stuff of fairy tales. It is a dimension far above ours where God’s presence in unmediated. How can we conceive of it, really? This existence called eternity? The Scriptures promise it is not some sort of platonic state of suspended animation. We won’t be indeterminate, free-floating apparitions. We will be resurrected. Bodily! Job exclaims, “After my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see Him with my own eyes- I, and not another.”5 All of the restrictions of the sinful condition will be eradicated. No effects of decay! No inklings of apathy! No trace of anxiety! The difficulty in describing it is evidenced by the fact that the absence of evil is often the biblical focus, “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”6 There will be light and joy and peace, and an indescribable exuberance of life.
It is healthy, at least every Sunday, when we celebrate the physical resurrection of Christ to think about these promises. It is part of the exercise of our baptisms. Margareta was baptized into the saving work of Jesus- His death, resurrection, and ascension- and now the baptismal covenant He made with her is fulfilled. The Good Shepherd has carried her through her earthly journey right to the end. A bodily resurrection still awaits. The apostle writes, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”7 The apostle cuts right to the heart of the matter. Without the resurrection we have nothing substantial to believe in. But remember, there are no more ‘ifs’ for Margareta. Christ has made them disappear like dew in the noonday sun.
And, dear friends, when the big ‘ifs’ of life are resolved we are truly freed to live in joyful service to others. Margareta pursued her passions with exactly this freedom and confidence. Music was one of her great loves. She was more familiar with the genius of Bach or Handel than most people are with music in general. She wasn’t just an admirer though. Margareta was an accomplished musician. When she played the organ in the Divine Service she understood she was leading God’s people in celebration of His love. When she directed the choir, she was helping to bring to life the promises of the gospel through song.
During her last years Margareta endured a time of feebleness that was uncharacteristic of the vibrant and active life she enjoyed most of her days. You’d never find her wasting time doing trivial things. She was as practical and industrious as she was spiritual. Even in her convalescence she was exercising her faith. She was eager to hear God’s Word and receive Holy Communion. She was diligent in prayer. She showed concern for God’s people in need. As difficult as her time of immobility was, it was an opportunity to reflect deeply on God’s mercy and grow closer to Cliff. She cherished every day as a gift.
Margareta was happy, too, when she was nurturing a garden or the next generation. How many trees did she plant? How many flowers did she grow? How many gardens did she nurture? Margareta not only had two green thumbs but all her other fingers as well! And how many children, grandchildren and great grandchildren did she nurture? Well, we can put a number to those of her own bloodline. But what about all the others? We might gather all the available flowers in Loxton and it would still hardly be a sufficient tribute to this woman who cherished her garden so immensely. But she would have been content also with one, solitary specimen, a rose or something else fitting, as a reminder of the singular, indispensable, death-defying love of her Saviour. He alone possesses immortality. As the Scripture says, “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field…the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.”8 All other supports collapse under the weight of mortality or abandon us in the hour of need.
Grief is among the trickiest and most vexing of all human traumas. Joy mixes with sorrow, loss is tempered by hope when we reflect on the death of a faithful Christian. The death of loved ones reaches us at the deepest levels of the human psyche. Nothing compares to the stinging sense of loss that occurs. No one can resolve someone else’s grief. Navigating it healthily requires divine assistance. The Holy Spirit does not fail to give it. Cliff, your beloved is out of sight, but she’ll never be out of heart or out of mind. She is filled with inexpressible joy and that knowledge will buoy the weight of your grief.
Margareta’s confirmation verse was, “Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”9 That has now come to pass. No more ifs. Thanks be to God. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Christian Burial of Margareta Anne Hampel
22 February 2018
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 John 11:21 2 John 11:25-26
3 1 John 5:11-12 4 Romans 5:8-9
5 Job 19:26-27 6 Revelation 21:4
71 Corinthians 15:14 8 Isaiah 40:6-8