Eleanor King’s Funeral Sermon, John 10:27-28

Dear family and friends of Eleanor King: 1918 was a treacherous year.  World War I was still far from over.  Many men were dying from machine-gun fire and poison gas.

Yet, despite the carnage in distant lands, love still thrived in this fallen world.  Harry Moline and his wife, Florence, loved each other.  And so in the early months of 1918, Florence became pregnant.  A new life began to stir within her womb.

But a few months later, the first phase of a flu epidemic struck our nation.  People called it the “three-day fever,” which appeared without warning.  Nothing, at first, seemed odd.  People recovered after a few days.  And Harry and Florence breathed a sigh of relief.

When the flu surfaced again in the fall of 1918, Florence was ready to give birth to her daughter, whom they would name “Eleanor.”  As Florence was in labor, the second round of the flu struck, eluding treatment and defying control.  Some died within hours of their first symptoms.  Others died after a few days; their lungs filled with fluid.  In 1918, the flu was so rampant the average life expectancy in the United States dropped by 12 years.

That was the uncertain world into which Eleanor was born.  Yet, despite the world’s darkness and doubts, Harry and Florence took Eleanor to receive something that was certain and sure.  They did what Christian parents have done for 2,000 years.  They brought Eleanor to the waters of holy baptism.  During the Advent season of 1918, God washed away Eleanor’s sins and adopted her as His own child.

As Eleanor grew in years, God continued to shower His blessings on her.  Week after week she heard the Scriptures.  She confessed her sins and received absolution.  Later, Eleanor would receive her Lord’s body and blood for the forgiveness of all her sins.  That was a gift that she cherished all the days of her life, even on August 11th of this year, when Eleanor was still strong.

When Eleanor was not yet even 20, she fell in love and married Earl King.  But times were tough back then, even harder than today when we are in the throes of a long-lasting recession.  Earl and Eleanor, and their families, couldn’t afford a fancy wedding.  So in the simplicity of faith, they went to the pastor’s parsonage, where their pastor married them in August of 1937.

If you only count Eleanor’s children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, there are more people than I could name who literally owe everything to her.  But family is just the surface.  Eleanor had the gift of a generous spirit.  People who knew her for many years said she never spoke ill of another.

I’m told Eleanor’s husband, Earl, was a man with a wonderful sense of humor.  He knew how life fit together and was satisfied when it did.  But, as we know, life is not always that way.  Life does not always fit together well.  It is often messy and complicated.  And when in those times, when Earl’s expectations may have seemed too high for you to reach, Eleanor was there with her generous spirit.

Yet, Eleanor never deceived herself into believing that she was good enough for God.  Eleanor was a sinner–and she knew it.  That’s why she knew she never outgrew her need for Jesus.

But as much as Eleanor knew that she was a sinner, she also knew her Savior.  Our Gospel reading today gives us these words from Jesus.  “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”

When our Lord spoke those words, He was talking about Eleanor and all who trust Him for eternal salvation.  Eleanor, although she was hard of hearing, knew her Savior’s voice.  When she was healthy and able, she loved to come here and listen to it.  Eleanor knew that nothing was more valuable than receiving the gifts of God in Word and Sacrament.  She knew she needed what Jesus gave.  Eleanor was a lamb who knew the voice of her Shepherd.

Jesus says that His sheep “will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of [His] hand.”  As true as those words are, they can seem empty and hollow after someone you love dies.  Eleanor died last Monday.  Some of you were there when it happened.  Her body is now here in this casket.  In a short while, we will lay her to rest in the cemetery, next to the body of Earl, her husband.

Since Eleanor has died, that makes our Lord’s words hard to believe.  How can He say that His sheep never perish?  What can that possibly mean?  We can find that answer by looking at what happens just after our Lord spoke those words.

It was just after today’s Gospel reading that Jesus learned that his friend Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, was sick.  The illness was severe, maybe even like the flu of 1918.  Mary and Martha were afraid that Lazarus would die, so they wanted Jesus to come.

But when Jesus got there, Lazarus was already dead in the tomb for three days.  Jesus then said something strange sounding to Martha.  He said, “I am the resurrection and the life.  The one who believes in me will live, even though he dies.  Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

What did Jesus mean?  Although a person who believes in Jesus will die, he will not remain dead.  The death of a Christian is always temporary.

Why is this so?  It’s because Christians are baptized into Christ.  Death cannot have any stronger hold on a Christian than it did on Christ.  When death tried to take Jesus down, it found that it had bitten off far more than it could chew.  Jesus burst forth from the grave, and the grave lost all its power.  Jesus rose on Easter morning.  Since then, death’s bark has been far worse than its bite.  Yes, death stalks us and is full of talk, but it is weak.  Death has no power over Eleanor because it has no power over Jesus.

This morning, we do well to remember something else that happened the day Jesus raised Lazarus from the grave.  Jesus wept.  Jesus, the perfect and holy Son of God, knew that He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead.  But even knowing that, He still wept.  Jesus grieved because His friend whom He loved had died.  He grieved because grief was overwhelming His other friends, Mary and Martha.  He cried because He was a man, and tears are a normal, human response to death.

Nothing is wrong with being sad when someone you love dies.  There is nothing wrong with even being angry today.  There is nothing wrong with even wanting Eleanor to be alive right now.  Why isn’t anything wrong with these emotions?  That’s easy–Jesus grieves whenever one of His little sheep dies.  Jesus is angry whenever death strikes at one for whom He died.  Jesus cries at funerals.  Eleanor has died, and death is something evil.  The Apostle Paul tells us the last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Corinthians 15:26).

Tears are all right when you miss someone you love.  But Satan will try to move you beyond tears.  He will say, “If someone as good as Eleanor has died, what chance do you have?  If someone like Eleanor was a sinner, what hope do you have?”  When Satan attacks you with those thoughts, remember and live in your baptism.  Christ is not dead.  Those who baptized into Christ, still living in their baptisms, will live eternally because Jesus Christ lives eternally.

Remember Eleanor’s baptism.  Remember your baptism.  Live in your baptism and Satan will flee from you.  He cannot overcome our Lord’s promises made to Eleanor in that water.  He cannot touch a saint who has been baptized into God’s own name.

We sometimes call the cemetery someone’s “final, resting place.”  The idea is that a person’s soul is in heaven, but his body is in the ground.  Some people will even suggest that a person’s body isn’t essential.  “It’s just a shell,” they will say, “Life is better now that someone is finally free from it.”  It’s especially tempting to think that way when someone’s last few years were difficult like Eleanor’s.

But these ideas are not true.  Eleanor’s body is precious to our Lord.  He has redeemed it.  He has borne all its sicknesses.  And when Jesus returns on the Last Day, He will raise her body, perfect and whole, to take all His saints home–body and soul!  Eleanor is already enjoying the bliss of being with her Savior, but He still has more to give her.  Jesus hates death, and He will not allow Eleanor’s death to stand.

Jesus did not suffer and die on the cross just to save Eleanor’s soul.  Jesus suffered and died on the cross to save Eleanor–body and soul!  That’s salvation in all its fullness.  And what goes for Jesus also goes for Eleanor.  Jesus was buried, just as Eleanor will be buried.  Jesus rose from the dead never to die again, just as Eleanor will rise from the dead never to die again.

That is the confidence we share with Eleanor.  That is our comfort in every affliction.  Eleanor has a Savior who has conquered death.  She will live, body and soul, forever.  Amen.