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FUNERAL SERMON FOR ANITA LUETKENS

February 25, 2020, at Luther Memorial Chapel

Pastor Michael Larson

God’s peace be with you all. Today we give thanks to God for our friend Anita. She fell asleep in the promises of Our Lord last Wednesday. It seemed to come too quick for us all. But apparently not for her nor for her Lord and Savior.

Just a few short months ago she went to the hospital with some discomfort in her chest. It was found out, much to our surprise, that cancer had spread rapidly throughout her body. The doctors laid out the options for her – the chemotherapy and treatments she might go through. But in one way or another they made it clear there wasn’t much they could do. Anita responded with patience and trust in her Lord and resolved to commend her life and her body to God and His holy will.

For her friends who visited her, it was tough to take, I think. She spoke of her cancer and its advance in such a blunt, matter-of-fact way that it took us all by surprise. It seemed a bit jolting, for her friends, and even for myself.

But given how quickly the Lord has whisked her away to His Kingdom, it’s now apparent that she was the one who was acting and thinking with great clarity, while we all seemed to be lagging behind, slow to recognize how eager our Lord was to call her home. As soon as she got back to her apartment, she was quick to scribble the names of her pallbearers, young men of the congregation. And she wrote out the names of the hymns she wanted sung at her funeral. Right before it seemed her vision began to fade.

Again, in hindsight, she was not getting ahead of herself at all, even though it seemed so for us. She had a clarity of mind as she quietly listened to the voice of her Good Shepherd, who was calling her to Himself. And she acted accordingly.  

Anita was baptized on September 29, 1935, at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Loganville, Wisconsin. She was a farm girl in this town of a couple hundred people. As she got older she found herself in service to families, performing household duties, cleaning, chores, and caring for children. She did this really her whole life. We recognize Anita herself was unmarried and without children. But how interesting that she gave her whole life sacrificially to uphold and sustain those very blessings that were given to others, and not herself. And perhaps that is worthy of double the honor.

In our Gospel text this morning a father pleads with Jesus to heal his daughter, who is at the point of death. He just wants Jesus to get His healing hands on his little girl. As He goes off to visit that little girl, He’s met by another woman. An older woman. She’s sick. Really sick. She had seen all the doctors, but they came up short, and all said the same thing, “Sorry there’s nothing left we can do.” But she didn’t give up. She had heard the report about Jesus, what He did, and who He was. So she pressed through the crowds and said to herself, “If only … if only I touch even His garments, I will be made well.” And she reached out in faith, got ahold of Him, believing in Him and His mercy, and that’s just what she got. She was healed instantly.

Now back to that father and the little girl. Jesus is off to see her but someone brings bad news. She’s already dead. It’s too late. At least, that’s what they said. And there they all were, a whole crowd weeping and wailing. But do you think that stops our Lord? No way.

Jesus entered the house and said simply, “The child is not dead but sleeping.” And He took that father and mother and drew close to the bed where that little girl was lying, pale and cold. He took her gently by the hand and spoke softly to her these words: “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And her eyes fluttered open. She sat up, and got out of bed. How could she not smile, beaming with incomprehensible joy, her and her family!    

Folks, these aren’t old Bible stories. Anita could see herself right there in them. Just as I hope you all can as well. It’s the story to which we all belong. Sick, fatigued, dying sinners in a dying world. Some day for all of us, even the best of doctors will say, “Sorry, there’s just nothing more I can do.” But no, not Christ, not our heavenly physician. Because He went right through death itself, from the cross and tomb, making death for us but a short sleep, our graves just a bed, a portal to everlasting life. You see, when Jesus rose from the dead, He shows His pierced hands and feet. And doesn’t say, “Sorry … there’s nothing else I can do,” but rather, “Look, just look and delight in all that I’ve done for you.”

Because in those glorious scars you can see for yourself that all your sins have been answered for. And now from that pierced side comes a gusher of mercy and forgiveness.

Like that sick woman in our Gospel today, Anita came to the altar on Sunday, sick, just like all of us in this fallen world, with the frailty of this mortal flesh. And at the altar she reached out to touch Jesus. And He reached right back with His own body and blood – a guarantee or His eternal love and blessing. There was her healing, her refreshment, and her life. And she knew it and rejoiced in that.  

Tomorrow Anita will rest in the tomb just like that little girl in our Gospel this morning. But as Jesus said, “She’s not dead … just sleeping.” For not even death can separate her from the love of her Savior. Because He’s promised to come again. And He’ll take Anita’s hand gently in His, and her eyes will flutter and open. And He’ll lift her up from her grave. A girl youthful and sprightly, to stand up in the resurrection of all the saints in glorious light.  

In those last days of earthly life, Anita’s thoughts became focused, singular, and all she wanted to talk about was one thing. Just one thing. The happiness of singing in the choir at her old church. Each and every visit she talked about walking in her choir robe in procession singing in her church. I thought she was just recalling fond old memories. But maybe it was more than that. Maybe that clarity of vision and mind I talked about earlier was already illuminating and bringing that future glorious life so near and palpable, that she nearly felt it. Just like a little girl, opening her eyes from sleep to behold Christ, and walking, singing in the choir in her white robe. In the name of Jesus. Amen.