In the name of our risen Lord.
Thank you for coming here to commend my Mother’s remains to the care of our Lord. Our grief is eclipsed by our gratitude for Mom’s life and that she died in Christ, and now awaits our reunion at the resurrection. Our consolation is expressed in the text Mom chose for this sermon where St. Paul writes,
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2
Mom’s instructions are that I preach only on the text and am absolutely forbidden to talk about any part of her life. As in life and now in death, I considered the suggestion.
There is, of course, no place to speak of a human contribution to God’s gifts of creation and redemption. But, once this grace took root through faith in this particular person, things become personal. Then, “beyond all hope and nearly beyond belief” she recognized herself as a “redeemed soul”. As God’s workmanship, her “old inferiority complex” was replaced by the realization that “she has pleased Him whom she was created to please.” She was free “from the miserable illusion that it is her doing” which made vanity, boasting, pride and self-approval seem ridiculous.
And what happens after she was saved “by grace through faith”? Salvation was not some kind of ceiling, leaving nothing left to build. Faith was more like a floor or better, a foundation, for a life “created in Christ Jesus for good works.” The goodness of these good works is that they were the upshot of God’s good workmanship, where His works freely express His love. Work, in this sense is akin to an artist speaking of his “life’s work” where love and labor are indistinguishable. This is reflected in an old tradition that imagined God accomplishing the work of creation by singing. And again, the work of redemption expressed God’s love for the world that He found it intolerable to imagine His beloved dying and being lost forever. God so passionately loved the world that He gave up His beloved son to the passion of the Cross, which scripture says was a work of joy. It is God’s gift to us that we are “created in Christ Jesus for good works” as it is God’s way of drawing us deeper into the enjoyment of His workmanship.
Early Christians thought that we enjoyed God’s workmanship in experiences of beauty, truth and goodness. The beautiful is enjoyed in works of poetry and painting; in psalms and music. Mom had a special hatred for poetry. The true is enjoyed in the philosophical work of thinking, reading, writing and discussing. Mom left the room when the arguments began. So, the beautiful being the realm of the poetic and the true being the realm of philosophic had little draw for Mom. But the Good being the realm of tennis was where Mom effortlessly enjoyed the good, working to be better today than she was yesterday. Practice and love were indistinguishable.
She lived out the truth that when you love something or someone, you want that love to run deeper and last longer. Her love of the good that came through her love of the game finally exacted a high cost when she lost her eyesight and could no longer actively enjoy what she loved. When you love someone or something, it’s sad beyond measure to realize that thing is not going to last or live forever. Losing her sight was a bitter pill to swallow, though it also became a foretaste (like a Costco sample), increasing her hunger and thirst for God to complete the good work He had begun in her.
“I’m no good at this!” She exclaimed not long ago. “No good at what?” I asked, while trying to discern if she was hallucinating. “I’m no good at dying,” she said, “because I’ve never done it before.” I paused to enjoy the moment then replied, “But you have already died when you were baptized into Christ’s death.” “Oh,” she said, “I forgot about that.”
Having died in Baptism, life no meant that she died, and she died, and she died until last Friday when the dying stopped. Now that Mom has died for the last time, she returns to the baptismal font for God to make good on His promise to finish the good work that He began at her Baptism. So, we commend the remains of this lovely and beloved soul to God’s rest.