St John's Ev LC, Victor, IA
In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Just about 81 years. 81 years ago she wasn't supposed to be alive. 81 years / of fighting death. (I don't need to recount all the struggles and tragedy and heartaches that Marilyn faced, you know them all better than I, you lived through them with her.) // How does a person live 81 years in such a condition like Marilyn lived? // Strength / and Hope.
Marilyn was strong; that is without question. Forgive me for being so candid, but for 81 years / Marilyn just refused to die. Even down to the last days: / her life was a witness to the reality that death has lost it's victory, that death is already defeated in the resurrection of Jesus. If any title would be given to Marilyn / I would say it would be something like St Marilyn, Fighter of death. She fought hard, she battled, and she was mostly unrelenting and unafraid in her struggles. Marilyn once told me (in her usual pointedness) how she didn't understand why people got so upset at funerals; after all, those who die in faith were so much better now. And we would certainly see them again. We ought to be rejoicing!
It's not that she didn't grieve, but her life was also a witness to the Scriptural counsel that we do not grieve as the world grieves. Why? Because we have hope. Marilyn also had hope. And it was from this hope, that she got her strength, for it was a hope in Someone who had already defeated death on her behalf; Marilyn's strength / came from her hope/faith in Jesus.
Where Marilyn refused to die, and fought and defeated death on a number of occasions (as you know), / the same was not true for our Lord. When it was time to die, our Lord did not fight. Or let me say this in another way: it was possible for Marilyn to fight and defeat death all those times, only because her Lord Jesus went willingly and submissively to death on her behalf, and on your behalf.
This is what we learn from our Lord's good and faithful servant, Marilyn. We learn that there is a battle, and that we can fight, and that, in Christ Jesus, we can win. Marilyn has won! It looks / like she has finally lost, right? I mean just look, this is her closed casket, her body is dead, lying lifeless right here before us.
Dearly beloved of the Lord, dear friends and family of Marilyn, know this: death / has long / been dead. This is what Jesus came to do: Jesus took death upon Himself on the cross, all death, the death of the whole world, your death and Marilyn's death, too. And having death in His grasp, our Lord and Savior Jesus descended into hell and chained up death forever. And to prove this to you, and to the whole world, / He did the thing which was impossible if death still had it's power: He rose from the dead, fully alive, true God, but also true Man. Jesus of Nazareth just walked His body, (the same regular, old human body that He received from His mother, Mary), He walked that body right out of the grave, as if death was dead, and no longer had any dominion over Him...because it was dead, and Jesus has so much dominion/power over death that not only death, but the devil and all sin, those great enemies of humanity, are now put under His feet, they are described in Scripture as His footstool. (How much dominion does a footstool have, right?) / In other words, Jesus uses death for His own saving purposes now: as a gateway to heavenly life; not a fearful and scary thing, (Marilyn was right!) death is a time of rejoicing, even celebrating. The Church has long called the day of a Christian's death their heavenly birthday. How fitting then / that Marilyn's heavenly and earthly birthdays are almost the same calendar day.
So you see / that the only “power” that death has now / is really no power at all. The devil simply does a good job of lying to us about it, and how often we are tricked into believing that death still reigns. Satan never ceases trying to get us to believe that anything else has power/reigns over Christ. Jesus lives! He reigns / the victory's won / the strife with death, sin and the devil / are done. “It is finished,” Jesus said from the cross.
Do not be deceived, dearly beloved. The saying is true, “appearances can be deceiving.” It appears as though Marilyn is dead. / The truth, the reality, is that Marilyn is now more alive than she has ever been, for her mortal, sinful body no longer clings to her. She is free, she is safe. The promise that the Lord made to her in her Baptism has come to fruition. In Baptism, Marilyn was united with Jesus and made a beloved child of God, given Godly, divine, eternal life. And throughout her life, she continued received Jesus' divine life in the Lord's Supper. Marilyn cannot be dead, she already died and already rose with Jesus, in Baptism. As death has no dominion over Jesus, so death has no dominion over Marilyn; because Jesus won, Marilyn has won! This is why Scripture says that those who finish the fight of earthly life with faith, will receive the crown of glory. It's not just a nice saying that is only meant to comfort the bereaved, but is a living reality: Marilyn (right now!) is wearing that crown of victory and life. She is beholding the face of her living Savior and Lord Jesus, and she is reunited in heavenly victory and joy with all those saints who have gone before us, saints like Otto and Edith and Milford. Marilyn and all those saints / have won. Their fight with sin, death and the devil is now over.
But not so / for us; not yet. Like Marilyn did throughout her earthly life, we still must fight, for we still live in our mortal bodies in this mortal place. Our battles still go on. Our sinful flesh stills hangs on and torments us. We must fight it. / Satan is always lurking, lying to us with this temptation or that, accusing us with one sin or another. We must fight him. / And the world tries with all it's riches and temporary pleasures to distract us away from God and His heavenly kingdom. We must fight. We must do battle. We must continue to run our race and fight our battles. But we must be careful to do all this, just as Marilyn did. We must fight with hope and confidence. In fact, our strength for the day must come from our hope and confidence, our strength must be our faith in Christ. For, as St John says in his first Epistle, “This is the victory that has overcome the world, that is, our faith.”
Marilyn's Jesus / is also your Jesus. Jesus' victory for Marilyn / is also Jesus' victory for you. Take heart, dearly beloved. Your God, Jesus, is the one who has all power and dominion. He is your help in every time of need, He is your rock and your salvation, He is your mighty fortress, He is your comfort and confidence. He is your life. I cannot preach it enough and you cannot hear this message too much, that His resurrection from the dead assures you that His death on the cross / was really victory. Sure, it looked like defeat, just like Marilyn looks defeated, but if you have eyes of faith to see it, you will recognize the victory. Christ's death / is your life.
Marilyn knew that, she lived that. And now she lives Christ's life to the fullest in heavenly splendor and glory. Where Marilyn is, the great enemies cannot go; she is safe; she is home. Her death was simply the gateway into that glorious heavenly life. Let the preaching and the Sacraments of Christ dwell in you richly, that you too may join Marilyn and the other saints in that same heavenly splendor as we all await the final victory, the final banishing of sin, death and the devil, the great and awesome Day of our Lord Jesus Christ when He comes again to raise even our bodies to life eternal. Hope in Him, draw strength (as Marilyn did) in this saving Message.
In the name of our risen and reigning Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.