Sunday, October 14, 2012

Funeral for Gerda deFranceschi


John 5:24-30; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17; Lamentations 3:22-33

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Richard and Sonia, Debbie and John, Great-Grandchildren, family and friends of our departed sister Gerda, brothers and sisters in Christ, grace, mercy, and peace unto you from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

Hear again the Word of our Lord: Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears My Word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. Dearly beloved, eternal life is not something a Christian receives in the resurrection, when Christ returns in glory on the Last Day, but eternal life is what a Christian lives here and now, in this life, in this world, but not of this world. For, a Christian is born again in Holy Baptism to a life that will never end. Death has become but a doorway into the presence of God, for those clothed in Jesus’ righteousness pass through unscathed.

Sadly, most of us do not live our lives in this knowledge. That is to say, we do not think of our lives as being eternal right now, but we think that is something that comes later, after we die. This is sad, because we miss out on the joyous peace and freedom Jesus died for us to enjoy. We look at our lives as an ever-hastening turning of the calendar page while not living life to its fullest, and fearing inevitable death. But, Jesus died to set you free from all of that. Jesus died that you may live your life without worry, anxiety, clamoring for material wealth and possession, and fear. Jesus died that you live free now, knowing that your treasure is secure in heaven and that nothing can take it away from you. Our dear sister in Christ, Gerda, knew this truth throughout her earthly life, and she knows it in fullness in her heavenly life now.

Gerda lived about as full a life as a human being can – ninety-nine years this past January. Born in Bremerhaven, Germany, Gerda came to the United States when she was only sixteen. If you knew Gerda, then you heard the story of how she met the man who would become her husband, Bruno deFranceschi, the very day she arrived in New York. Gerda and Bruno were married just shy of sixty-nine years when Bruno died in 2000. Those last years Gerda faithfully ministered to her husband while he was at the Lutheran Care Center in Poughkeepsie. After Bruno died, Gerda remembered her love daily, telling her guests readily that his ashes were buried in the yard just outside her kitchen window, and relating that she and he would be buried together when the time came. Gerda liked to tell stories, many of them over and over again, each and every time you would visit. Though I often heard here question what was wrong with the world, I can’t say I ever heard her complain. I attribute that to faith, a certainty and a knowledge that, no matter what happened, God was in control and the victory was already hers in Jesus Christ.

Did I mention that Gerda could bake? You all know that well enough. A visit with Gerda meant some of that good, strong, German coffee purchased from Adam’s – the only place Gerda wanted to shop – and some banana bread or some other scrumptious goodie. Debbie told me about how when she was a child her grandmother tried to get her and John to drink coffee. In one attempt, Gerda filled their milk glasses at dinner with half milk and half coffee. To this day, neither Debbie or John drink coffee. Debbie also shared with me that one of Gerda and Bruno’s homes had two kitchens so that Bruno could cook meals downstairs and Gerda could bake upstairs! She said that going to their storage room was like going to the supermarket, there was so much food in there! Richard says that his mother was the best cook, baker, and hostess, as most of you know.

Gerda loved her grandchildren and great grandchildren. Each time John and Debbie visited, Gerda gave one of them a jar containing all her pennies she had saved up. One time John would get the jar, the next time Debbie would. Debbie says that they felt like they were rich. Later, when the great grandkids would visit Opa when he was in the nursing home, Gerda stuffed ten dollar bills in his hand for him to give each child, making them feel rich too.

Gerda insisted that Richard go to college, making him the first in their family in the United States to graduate with a degree. In appreciation for that, Richard created a scholarship at SUNY Cortland to be given to a first-generation immigrant student. When Debbie was in college, Gerda knitted her some slippers in the schools colors of gold and blue. She wore them all over the dorm and the other girls like them. When Debbie told her grandmother this, she sent ten pairs more!

Gerda was a proud woman, but not arrogant. She was proud of her homeland, and she had many keepsakes and mementos from Bremerhaven throughout her home. She was proud of her husband, and she was proud of her son, her grand-children, and great grand-children. She carried herself with dignity and took pains to dress well and maintain a neat and proper appearance. Gerda could be stubborn, but that was really the product of her good sense of order and what was proper, right, good, and true. Gerda was also proud of her Lutheran faith and her church. She and Bruno were charter members of The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Christ the King in Pawling, NY. She had many dear friends here and was a regular and anticipated participant at church bake sales. She remembered Pastor Gronbach with joy and happiness. As he preceded her death by only three weeks, Gerda and Bruno are reunited with their pastor in the presence of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

In the last few years Gerda was ready to die. She wasn’t morbid about it, nor was she despairing, although she did have moments where loneliness and confusion over came her. Anyone who visited Gerda the past year or so likely heard her say that she didn’t want to live to be one hundred. Having ministered to a few souls near that age or beyond, I know that that is not an uncommon sentiment. But, I still maintain that Gerda was at peace with her life and with her Lord, and therefore, she was at peace with death whenever it should come. Though she probably wouldn’t put it quite the way I am stating it, she knew that she had already died, many years ago, in holy baptism, and that the life she lived now would never end, that death was but a doorway into the presence of God. Long ago, Gerda heard the Word of her Lord, and she passed over from death to life. And, on the Last Day, when Jesus returns in glory, Gerda will be amongst those dead in Christ who will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with her and them in the clouds and will meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Take comfort, then, that God has kept His promise to Gerda, and that God has kept His promise to you – You are mine. I have named you, claimed you, and sealed you in the blood of My Son, and nothing can separate you from my love which is in Jesus Christ, your Lord. Through faith in Him, by the power of His creative and life-giving Word, you have crossed over from death to life, now, and forever.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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