Friday, November 22, 2013
Homily for the Christian Funeral of Evelyn Costas
Mark 5:35-43; 1 Corinthians 15:51-57; Isaiah 25:6-9
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Dearly beloved, the Scripture readings I have shared with you this evening each speak about death in slightly different ways. In the reading from St. Mark, our Lord Jesus comforts a family whose young daughter had died by telling them, “The child is not dead but sleeping.” In the reading from First Corinthians, St. Paul speaks of the return of our Lord Jesus on the Last Day, the Day of Resurrection, saying that “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. […] …the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.” The Prophet Isaiah seems to have in mind several different fulfillments of the prophecy that death will be swallowed up by victory: First, by the return of the children of Israel from exile in Babylon. Second, in Jesus’ victory over death and the grave by His own crucifixion, death, and resurrection from the dead. And third, death will be swallowed up forever when Jesus returns on the Last Day and the dead are raised. Then, lastly, even the beloved twenty-third Psalm speaks of death, not only as something that we in time pass through, but as the very life that we live, now, in the valley of the shadow of death. In all cases, however, death has only a temporary sting and no lasting victory. Indeed, in Jesus’ death and resurrection, death’s sting, sin, is removed, and death, the last enemy, cannot hold us in our graves, but it will be swallowed up in Jesus’ victory when He returns on the Last Day. Until then, truly, those who die in the Lord are not dead, but they are sleeping – a restful sleep from which they will be awakened when Christ returns.
Our dear sister in Christ, Evelyn, is not dead, but she is sleeping. Yes, it is true that Evelyn’s body has died, but it is also true that Evelyn’s soul is with Her Lord Jesus. We can take comfort and find peace and hope in the sure and certain promise that those who die in the Lord are blessed, that, for them, there is no more mourning, crying, nor pain anymore; they hunger no more, nor thirst anymore, the sun does not strike them nor any scorching heat, and God Himself wipes away every tear from their eyes. Still, this is not the end of the story for Evelyn, nor for us, for she and all the saints, and we as well, still long for that yet more glorious day, the day of the resurrection of all flesh when the Lord returns in glory. For, while Evelyn’s body rests in sleep, and while Evelyn’s soul is in comfort and peace with the Lord, Evelyn will not truly and fully be Evelyn until both her body and her soul stand together in the presence of God and the Lamb Jesus Christ. That is the day and the fulfillment and the victory over death that all Christians, all Christ’s saints, the Church on earth and in heaven long and pray and wait for in faithful hope and expectation.
Now, I’ve known Evelyn for the past eleven and a half years, the entire time I’ve served as pastor of The Lutheran Church of Christ the King next door to The King’s Apartments in Pawling where Evelyn lived. And, I think I knew her well enough, and I suspect that all who knew her would agree, to say that Evelyn was one tough cookie. You didn’t have to guess what Evelyn felt or was thinking; she’d let you know straight away. And, she was determined and fiercely independent. She didn’t want anybody’s help, and would even get angry if you were too persistent in offering it. Now, to be sure, there were many who didn’t understand Evelyn. Some likely took her independence as stubbornness and her opinionatedness as meanness. However, I think they were wrong to judge her so. For, the Evelyn that I had the privilege to get to know was not arrogant and self-secure, but she was disillusioned by injustice in the world, by suffering and death, by wars and poverty and politics. And, she would frequently ask “Why?” “Why is the world like this? Why do people behave the way they do? Why doesn’t God do something?” Now, these are fair and legitimate questions, and they can be asked in faith or in unbelief. Evelyn asked them in faith. She wasn’t angry with God, just inquiring. Further, when she didn’t get an answer, which we often don’t to such questions, she accepted that it was God’s will and that He knew what He was doing.
Now, that’s faith, even the kind of child-like faith that Jesus calls us all unto – faith seeking understanding, the faith of Job, the faith of Mary: Lord, may it be unto me according to Your Word. That’s the kind of faith Evelyn had; the kind of faith I had the unique privilege to minister to and to shepherd these past many years. A staunch Greek Orthodox believer, Evelyn attended my little Lutheran parish faithfully nearly every Sunday that the weather wasn’t too bad. In addition, she faithfully attended a small Bible study I hold at the King’s Apartments each Thursday afternoon. Both in church and in the study, Evelyn listened intently to the Word of God. Particularly in the Bible study, I very much enjoyed Evelyn’s presence, as I like to emphasize certain Greek words in the New Testament Bible. I would turn to Evelyn to get a fuller understanding of the word being used, and she would typically provide it. However, she never thought that I was pronouncing the Greek correctly. There would be, what seemed to me, a very, very, very subtle emphasis on a syllable or a subtle inflection here or there that would make my pronunciation unrecognizable. But, Evelyn’s contributions always added depth, richness, and relevance to our study. In fact, Sia, your full name Athanasia would come up from time to time, a name that means immortality, as well as your daughter’s name, Alethea, which means truth. Those are wonderful names, and very much appropriate for us to consider today.
Evelyn was a child of God, having child-like faith and trust in her Lord and Savior. Now she has fallen asleep in faith in the Lord; her body rests, awaiting the Lord’s return and the resurrection, but her soul is comforted in the Lord. It is right and appropriate to mourn, for Evelyn has died and we will see her no longer until that day. However, we do not mourn like those without faith, but our hope is in the Lord who has won for us the victory over death and will give to us the crown of life. When Jesus returns, we will all be awakened from our death-like sleep and we will all be changed, our perishable mortal bodies raised as imperishable immortal bodies, reunited with our souls that we may stand, once again, as we were created to be, living beings and the children of God, with all the saints before the throne of God and the Lamb. Then we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.