Sermon: In Memoriam +Rachel Lenore Rinehart Stoker + 1930-2010

Died: Saturday of Advent 2.2010 (12.11.2010)
Service: Thursday of Advent 3.2010 (12.16.2010) 

In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Marcia and David, family and friends of our beloved sister in Christ +Rachel, if there is any consolation for your heavy hearts, let this be it: +Rachel is not dead. Scripture gives us many ways of speaking of those who have fallen asleep in Jesus, but dead is not one of them. She may not be with us now, in this life, but she is alive. +Rachel is more alive now than she ever was. She is beholding her Savior Jesus Christ face to face. She lives because He lives.

But it's still hard, for you. She is a beloved friend and mother, and now you can't call her on the phone or play cards with her or listen to her recount all the interesting stories that filled her life and yours with so many memories, and that's hard. It causes you to grieve, because it is a loss. There is an empty space in your life which +Rachel, Mom, Grandma, Great-grandma used to fill. She has gained the crown of life, never to suffer or be in want ever again; her wait is over. But ours is not. We remain here, even though we wait in great anticipation for the day when our Lord Christ will call us to our eternal homeland with +Rachel and Spud and all the saints. Yet, we wait.

And while we wait, our life here is filled with burdens, like grief and heartache, like illness and surgery and debt and loss of jobs and a multitude of other inconveniences. It seems to never stop coming at us, one thing after another, it is an uncommon thing to find any comfort or alleviation of any of life's miseries. So that being the case, what joyous news it is to hear that it is not the Christian himself, but only his troubles that die. This departure of the soul from the body, that we often call death, is not an end or an exit, / but a transition. We do not lose our loved ones, we simply send them on before us; they do not die, they rise into a higher life, they have preceded us, only separated from us for a little while. And in this higher life, they cease to sin (and sin no longer affects them); all their discomforts, their struggles, their miseries, these all cease as well.

If life is a voyage over a troubled sea, then death is the port of safety to which we are bound. This life is a long and weary imprisonment, and death is glorious freedom! How blessed it is, then, to depart from this temporary world and be with Christ forever, just as +Rachel has.

But for now, you are given to simply wait. And while you wait, o devout soul, you keep Christ also, your blessed Savior, keep Him always in mind and heart, and you will have no fear of death; either of +Rachel's or any other loved one, or your own.

In the wilderness, at the river Marah, the Israelites were nearly dying of thirst, but they could not drink the water because it was too bitter. But then, the Lord showed Moses a tree which, “when he threw it into the water, the water became sweet,” (Ex 15.25) and the Israelites could then drink again. If you are dreading the bitterness of death, fear not, for God shows you a Tree, which will turn the bitterness of death into sweetness; that tree is the Branch which is already sprung forth from the root of Jesse (Is 11.1). That Branch is Christ, who said, “If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”

Never see death! Never see death! For Christ has defeated death forever. He who is life, died an eternal death on behalf of every man, for all time, for you. But death could not keep Him. Jesus rose, and so will +Rachel, and so will you. Do not dwell, then, on that sad hour when your loved one left you and went to her heavenly Father, but rather consider the moment, that glad and joyous occasion when you will see her again; on the great morning of the resurrection of the dead. When our faith in the resurrection is strong and firm, death loses so much of its terror, and we begin to see death for what it really is, for what Christ has made it now to be, namely, a quiet and Peaceful slumber.

+Rachel has died in faith. That means she has passed from the shadows of this life to the true life beyond; she has been taken out of the darkness and mystery of this world and has been transferred to the glorious light of heaven; she is brought from her sojourning among men / to her resting place with God.

But perhaps it was your hope that your loved one would remain and be a useful member of the Church militant here on earth for a while longer with you. But it has pleased God to transfer her to the Church triumphant above. And since it has pleased God, let it also please you. Perhaps you had hoped that she and you would spend one last moment together seeing and enjoying the beauty of God's creation. But it has pleased God to bring her to the eternal paradise where the beauty is beyond our comprehension and where joy is finally full and complete. And since it has pleased God, let it also please you as well.

God is faithful, that is, His Word, Jesus, keeps you in the faith. Do not reject Him now, do not get angry at God. See what He has done. Your mother, your friend is in paradise. Let God also give this paradise to you. Let Him keep you in His Word that you might not taste death forever. Hear His preaching, receive Him as He comes in Body and Blood in the Holy Communion. If there is anything worthy of holding onto into this turbulent and weak world, hold on to Christ as He holds on to you, as He holds on to our beloved sister in the faith, +Rachel. God is faithful. God is good. Taste and see and live / with Him, with +Rachel and with all the saints.

In +Jesus' name. Amen.

[Artwork by Ed Riojas]

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