Funeral Sermon For Elsie Jessen

Listen Here.

Read after the break (if you must) :

When Elsie joined Trinity, Calvin Coolidge was president.  The Great Depression was still seven years away.  There had only been one world war, and she was already 11 years old.  Sunday after Sunday, she was in the church.  The church is 95 years old.  Elsie was 98.  She was member here for 86 of them. Since October of 1922.  Almost four thousand five hundred Sundays.  She kept coming, and she kept coming, and she kept coming.  She knew that this was the place to be.  She came, she confessed her sins, received forgiveness, heard the word preached, received the body and blood of Christ, and then came back the next Sunday to do it again.  Many things in life change, but for the people of Trinity Wheatland, Elsie Jessen in church wasn’t one of them.  We couldn’t imagine the church without her.

Until.  About a year or so ago, she didn’t feel well enough to come.  Which was about like saying that the president doesn’t feel like taking the oath of office, The football team really doesn’t want to play the homecoming game, the astronaut doesn’t want to get into the rocket.  For those who came to church here, it was easy to think of Elsie as eternal.  Something that would just keep going and going and going.

Of course we all knew it wasn’t really true, Elsie knew it wasn’t really true – even better than we did.  But it felt true to us.  I was comforting to think of her as eternal, because if she was, maybe we could be too.  The Sunday she wasn’t here for the first time, people wondered and worried. —  “No, her back hurt too much” – a sign of just how painful it must have been for her.  The church seemed emptier without her here.  Occasionally, she would still show up, every so often.  But it wasn’t the same.  The constancy was gone.  We all knew that age was catching up to her.  And then, there was the last time.  November 2, 2008.  She would never come into the church again.  Except today.  One more time for Elsie to come to church.  This time, not as congregant, but as honored guest.  Her remains are laid to rest this day, in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection from the dead.  She enters the church today not for her sake, but for yours.  She needs nothing that we can give her, because she is with her Lord.  We bring her here today, and lay her earthly remains to rest, so that you would hear this and believe – she is not dead, only sleeping.

She will not forever sleep, but will one day awaken.  She will be raised up by the simple word of God – Talitha Cume – little girl I say to you arise.  Jesus will raise her with a word, just as he did for the girl in the Gospel reading today.  She will be raised not because she spent so much time at the church.  Not because of her faithfulness in attending.  But because of the gift of faith that stood behind her faithful attendance.  She knew.  She knew.

She knew that this was the place to be because this is the place where Jesus is given.  She knew that she needed to be here because she knew that she was a sinner.  As much as we loved her, as sweet as she was, as much as it seemed like nothing could stop her, she knew the truth.  She knew she needed forgiveness of sins.  And she knew that this was the place to get it.  Because this is where Jesus is preached and taught.  She knew that Jesus died on the cross to save her from her sins.  She knew this is where his body and blood are offered to her for the forgiveness of her sins.  She knew that this was the place where the Lord would “Create in her a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within her.”  She knew that, although she was a sinner, although her body was slowly betraying her, although death would eventually come to her body, she knew that she would live in Christ.  She knew that Christ would not abandon her to the grave.  She knew this, because she knew that Jesus had not been abandoned to the grave.  Yes, it’s true that Jesus die don the cross.  But she also knew that he is raised from the dead by the glory of God the Father.  Death no longer has dominion over him.  She knew that Jesus died and rose again.  She knew that when she was only a month old, nearly a century ago, Jesus had claimed her in Holy Baptism.   She knew that she was joined to his death through Holy Baptism.  She knew that her Old sinful flesh had been put to death and drowned in that water, and that a new person, clothed in the righteousness of Christ, had been raised up out of the water.  And she knew that every day of her long life, by contrition and repentance, the sinful flesh was put to death again, and that she arose righteous before God again.  She was never able to get rid of the sin, but she was given Jesus.  And Jesus didn’t sin.  That’s why when he died on the cross, death couldn’t hold him.  That’s why, Elsie didn’t fear death.  Elsie was joined to Christ’s death, so she knew that death would not forever hold her.  She knew that the forgiveness won for her by Jesus was given to her in Holy Baptism – a gift she treasured each day of her life.

And then she would come here again.  And she would taste again the body and blood of her Lord Jesus Christ.  She knew that when she tasted the body and blood of Jesus, she was joining in an ongoing feast – a feast that Alvin was already enjoying in it’s fullness.  She knew that when she was joined to Christ by eating and drinking his body and blood, she was joined with all the saints that had gone before – and she personally saw a lot of them go into glory.  She knew that one day she would eat and drink the feast in all its fullness as well.  Again, not because of anything she had done but because of what Christ did for her and in her and through her.

She was ready for death.  Not just because she had a good long life – though she did – but because she knew that Jesus her savior was waiting for her with open arms in heaven.  She knew that because of what he did for her, death was nothing more than a sleep from which she would awaken to eternal life.

Today we lay her body in the ground.  Today we lay Elsie to rest.  But today we know that this rest won’t last forever.  She isn’t simply consigned to the elements for eternity.  She is laid to rest because we know that this is just that – a rest – before the day that breaks more glorious, when our Lord returns when he speaks the word “talitha Cume – little girl I say to you, arise – and the dead will arise in him.  Elsie will arise in him.  All those who believe will arise in him.
Amy God grant such a blessed end to each of you, for Jesus sake, not for yours. and in his name.

Amen.

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