Mark 4:35-41, Revelation 14:13: Donna Kind-Gappa’s Funeral Sermon: Blessed are the Dead Who Die in the Lord

The story is the tale of your life, soaked into the bones and marrow of your being.  The sun warms your face, but distant thunder cleaves your ears.  Soon, dark clouds banish the brightness, and blackness descends, unasked for and unwanted.

The still waters rebel and lash out in chaos.  Venomous bile stings your throat, as the sharp wind cuts your face and the sea surges over the small fishing boat.  Smooth sailing is over, and the aftermath of our fall into sin takes you hostage, once more.

So, this is your life’s story, but also Donna’s.  How did some encroaching cancer come to claim her?  Early in 2013, Donna focused on caring for her husband, Niles, who suffered from declining health.  One morning, she suspected cancer in one of her breasts.  Perhaps, the most feared sensation on the fingertips of a woman.

Gray skies darken as the doctor diagnoses her with a tumor.  Undaunted, Donna continues to attend to Niles, for seven more months.  In waning health, he thrashes out, grappling with his body not doing what he wants.  “Well, Donna, I’m here where you want me, under your control.”  In her quiet strength, she holds her tears until she arrives home.

With her wind running short, Donna told me of those wounding words.  A brusque man, injuring barbs sometimes erupted off Nile’s tongue.  Undeterred, Donna still loved him.  Over the many months, she cared for him until his death.  In her caregiving, she too-often neglected her medical treatment.  Perhaps, this allowed the cancerous scourge to infiltrate and entrench her body.  “No one shows greater love than this, to lay down his life for his friends,” John the Gospel writer declares (John 15:13).

The calm and placid life Donna hoped to find didn’t come her way.  The serene waters dashed against the jagged malignancy of tumor cells, as malevolent as sin itself.  An unwanted storm battered her life, tossing her without mercy.  So are the experiences of everyone in a world drenched with sin.  Only the specifics, duration, and intensity are different.  The source is the same.

On my third visit at Garden View in O’Fallon, we talked about funeral plans.  “Tell me, Donna, do you want a text for me to preach on,” scooting closer to catch her whispers.  “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord,” her lungs wheezed out in response.

“So, anything else.”  “No, I trust you, pastor.”  The conversation took a different course.  Soon, enriching words flowed from my mouth as I read cards from friends who wrote to encourage and comfort.  Still, the thunder cracked, the wind swooped down, and grief began to roil inside me.  Now, I discover myself on the boat with Donna and Jesus.

The words of Scripture, the Lord’s Supper, and the writings of Martin Luther came to console us.  The trick with the Lutheran Reformer is to read him going on about the subject matter you need.  “This life, cursed by sin, is a vale of tears. The longer someone lives, the more sin and malice, plague and sorrow he encounters and witnesses,” he wrote.

How true!  For cancer, all disease and death, are but the unrelenting currents of our corrupted nature, refusing to leave.  So, we scamper and scurry, finding Jesus in a coma, we think.  Please don’t tell me Jesus is sleeping in this disaster, this emergency!

Unlike so many, never did I spot any fear of death in Donna.  To fear death is not strange, for dying is unnatural, never meant to be in the beginning.  The path of sin we chose introduced this nastiness into our world, pouring out our perversion into the soil of the Almighty’s creation, bringing ruin into His beautiful world.

Made in God’s image, with complete free will before the Fall, we preferred to glorify ourselves.  Perfect no more, the contamination streamed from one generation to the next, flowing from our forebears to us—to Donna, and to you and me.

So, the enduring enigma of evil is never far from us.  Neither is Jesus, who wore the form and flesh of His creatures.  The Creator, came to His own to restore, renew, and make right what we destroyed in our plunge into sin’s corruption.

To do this requires radical action.  For sin cannot be reformed into perfection, so the blight of your infected nature must die.  For this reason, Jesus came.  On a rough-hewn, sin-bearing cross, He exchanged His righteousness for your every failing.

Remember, you can’t reform your fallen sinfulness into goodness.  The fallen flesh needs to cease and give up its breath.  Still, our death won’t help us in any way because we remain contaminated as defiant and wayward beings.  No, we need to die in a crucified Christ—all to reside in His resurrected life.

The problem for us is this—we require our Lord’s forgiveness and the life He won for us on the splintered cross, here and now.  For we can’t run to the cross because our Lord is no longer on the sacrificial wood.  So, He must come to us, which He does.  For “blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.”

So, how do you die before you die?  In His power, Jesus pulls you into His sin-slaying death.  Now, you are part of the hallowed dead—who not only die—but live in Him.

Are you unaware, everyone baptized into Christ Jesus is baptized into his death?  Therefore, we are buried with him by baptism into death.  So, as Christ rose from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too may walk in newness of life. [Rom 6:3-4]

The en-Spirited waters become your death certificate.  In them, the Spirit brings you into Jesus’ death, making you dead to sin—and also death!  No wonder, St. John also wrote in Revelation, “Do not fear the second death” (Revelation 2:10).  Recognize this is your physical death, which follows your baptismal death.

Joined to Jesus by the water, believing in Him, you’re dead.  So, this second death is your flesh-and-blood body catching up with your baptism.  In this way, Donna died, her death revealing what earlier took place in the sin-killing, life-giving waters.  With all Christians, Jesus, the First and Last, is the start and finish of your story.

The disciples alarmed over the possibility of perishing in those waters.  So, their Lord came to bring life, speaking His Word, using water, in water, and through the water.  Unable to grasp the salvation within the wetness, Jesus spoke and retrieved life for them, from the watery tomb of death.  Today, He still does so.

Through His Word with the water—in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—water becomes life-bestowing. The Apostle Paul elsewhere ponders, “[Jesus] saved us—not by our righteous deeds but because of his mercy.”  Listen as He tells how, “through the washing in which the Holy Spirit gives us new birth and renewal,” baptism (Titus 3:5).

The promised Rescuer, Jesus, descended to die, but also to rise.  The end of His story is also yours.  For if you are united to Jesus through baptism in a death like His, you will also be with Him in a resurrection like His (Romans 6:5).  Bound to Him by water, enlivened by a living faith, your story is eternal life—as is His.

The fiercest of storms batter you, and you think you will drown.  Do not be deceived.  The Lord speaks, and the tumult and tempest, which mutiny against Him, are no more.  Calm overcomes strife, peace defeats war, and all on the ship with our Savior are safe, for the tranquility He bestows endures forever.

For now, the angry squalls of life continue to rage.  Nevertheless, hope harbors you in the upheaval.  The Spirit from the Father gives you this account of our Redeemer to hearten and bolster you.  In the stab of storm and ruin of rain, the disciples rested in the all-powerful protection of Jesus.  So can you.

Remember, Jesus did the work, preaching His Word, teaching His followers, performing works of mercy.  Still, our Lord rested, valuing the refreshing Spirit working in Him and for Him.  Now ascended into heaven, this Jesus-sent Spirit is living and active in you, dwelling inside you and for you, bringing peace to your mind and heart.

In Spirit-given faith, you realize how the story ends, for Jesus’ story is your story.  In death’s turbulent wake, everlasting life will follow.  Turn to Christ, as His frightened disciples did.  Treasure the true solace He grants us for all eternity.  The comfort we receive now is what awaits us.  For when you become drenched in the ending, a hope can undergird you when the waters storm to steal your breath away.

Now, we wait to enter the glorious presence of God.  Find respite in Him, under the watchful care of your heavenly Father, in the peace of His Son, by the grace of the Heaven-sent Spirit.  Amid the blustering gale, we come to church to savor our Sabbath Rest.  For worship isn’t our work done for God, but the fruits of His toil for us.

In the biting wind, Jesus delivered His disciples, saving them while they panicked.  Here, every time Jesus comes to You where He promises to be for your salvation, He restores you anew.  Yes, this is how we rest in His redemption for us.

All will come together in Your resurrection when Jesus returns.  Risen from the grave, you will walk in new life, with a physical body, which is as sure as Jesus’ defeat of death.  So sure, this is now yours—but not yet.

Until the Last Day, run the race of faith, sure of what your eyes cannot now consider.  The Almighty God’s solution for your body’s death is your body’s resurrection.  With the saints of heaven, including Donna, we also await our Resurrection Day.  Amen.