Thursday, January 10, 2019

Christian Funeral for Virginia Lucille Rieken

John 5:24-30; Revelation 7:9-17; Job 19:21-27                                                                                

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Life in Post-Depression America was hard. Life on a Post-Depression American farm in Iowa was harder. That was the life young Virginia grew up in. Pre-deceased by her two older sisters, Virginia found herself the oldest child and having to work, and to work hard, to provide for her family. Splitting wood, picking corn, milking cows, cooking meals, washing, mending, and making clothes were part and parcel of young Virginia’s day to day life. Her family didn’t own a car, so walking was the order of the day whether it was to school, to church, or to Sunday School. When she was older, Virginia looked back on her childhood with some bitterness for the hardness of it, but it wasn’t all bad, and it made her the woman, wife, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother she would become. Those were formative years. When nothing comes easy, it teaches you to appreciate what you have.
I asked the family how Virginia’s childhood and upbringing shaped her as a person. The word “bitter” was spoken. Now, that might sound fairly negative, but I ask you to not be too hasty in judgment. That was Tuesday morning. Virginia had passed away less than twenty-four hours earlier. The reality was fresh, and likely hadn’t fully settled in. Emotions were raw and untempered – What you see is what you get. But, let’s be honest; Virginia undoubtedly was a little bitter about her past. Undoubtedly she felt that the best years of her life – the years of her youth, when she was full of life and hope, natural beauty and vitality – had been stolen from her. Virginia knew that life can be hard, that nothing is free, and that, just because we aren’t all dealt the same cards, we have to play what’s in our hand. Perhaps “bitter” was a word spoken with a taint of emotion – sadness, shock, grief, sorrow, and the like? Perhaps “resigned,” “resolute,” or “long-suffering” might be more rounded and encompassing descriptions of Virginia?
In this respect, Virginia shared something in common with the patriarch Job in our Old Testament reading. Job was a wealthy and righteous man, blessed by God. Inexplicably, however, the LORD handed Job over to be tested by Satan. First Satan afflicted Job’s wealth and possessions. Then he afflicted Job’s children. Lastly, Satan afflicted Job’s body and health, reducing him to a sore-encompassed pariah to sit alone in his misery wondering why the LORD had permitted this to befall him. The answer to that question is not one that sits well with those whose highest values and virtues are fairness and equity: God permitted all this to befall Job to show the devil His own righteousness, effectively that He is God and that all that Job had, including his own life, was the LORD’s to give and to take away. In fact, that was Job’s own confession after the destruction of his wealth and family: “The LORD has given, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the Name of the LORD.” Later, in the verses you heard a moment ago, after Job’s own flesh and health had been destroyed, Job confessed his hope, belief, and even knowledge that the LORD would restore Him one day saying, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!”
Job’s story ended on a happy note. After the test, the LORD restored to Job two times over what He had permitted Satan to take from him. Job’s wealth was restored. New sons and daughters were born to him. Job was restored in wealth, health, family, and vitality to an exceedingly greater state than he enjoyed before. Look, the analogy only goes so far, and I am in no way suggesting that Job’s and Virginia’s lives were parallel, but only that there were a few things they shared in common. Though her childhood and young adulthood were hard and trying, the LORD provided for Virginia and her family, and, in fact, the LORD provided through her. And, like Job, the LORD did bless Virginia later in her life. Her marriage to Albert, “Red,” in 1975 were happy years, even if they were tragically cut short when Red died in 1999. The family mentioned that Virginia would often ask rhetorically, “Why did he have to leave so soon?” Those years saw them through a move to Maryland and back to Iowa again – “Too much traffic in the D.C. area, highways six lanes across!” Virginia had what we might call a wanderlust, a desire to travel the highways and the byways of our nation – without a map, of course, and Virginia always had to be in the driver’s seat. Because of this, she came to be thought of as a “Gypsy Traveler,” not always certain where she was going, but going, and getting there, nonetheless. After Red’s passing, Virginia found happiness and joy in simple things – sewing, crocheting, cooking, crafts, and bingo – much as she likely did in her hard, humble, and simple youth. While she might have desired something more, or different, I suspect that Virginia was content with the cards that had been dealt to her. She played them, she lived them, and she played them well.
When I asked about Virginia’s faith, there was no hesitation, but the family responded that she was a believer, she was a Christian, even if church attendance was not a regular part of her life. Those walks to church and Sunday School as a child no doubt wove her faith into the fabric of Virginia’s life early on so that faith was not something she talked about much, but faith was simply a part of who Virginia was. Who was Virginia? Virginia was a baptized child of God. She was a sinner who had washed her robe and made it white in the blood of the Lamb Jesus Christ. In Holy Baptism, the LORD claimed Virginia and named her His own dear and precious daughter and gave her forgiveness, a share in His kingdom, and life that will never die. That is what this white pall covering Virginia represents – Christ’s righteousness that covers all Virginia’s sins and imperfections so that she is pure and holy before the throne of God and the Lamb. Moreover, this was not something that happened to Virginia just this past Monday when the LORD called her home in Jesus, but it is something that happened to Virginia 91 years ago when she was baptized. Jesus says in St. John’s Gospel, “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.” Already, in her life, Virginia had passed over from death to life through Holy Baptism and faith in Jesus and His Word. As Jesus also teaches, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die,” so Virginia lives, even though she has died, and Jesus will raise her up on the Last Day. Then, you will see her again, as Job confessed, with your own eyes, in your own flesh, face to face. You will hear her voice again. You will hold her in your arms again. And, no one will take your joy from you.
When I met with the family to plan this service, I suggested several passages of Scripture. The following from Lamentations was one that was not selected, but after contemplating Virginia’s life and faith, I am convinced that it is important and meaningful: “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him; let him put his mouth in the dust—there may yet be hope; […] For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.” The LORD did indeed cause grief. Virginia did indeed bear the yoke in silence and wait on the LORD. And, the LORD has indeed shown compassion and love for His servant. He died for Virginia and gave her faith to receive this precious gift. Now Virginia lacks for nothing, but knows perfect contentment, completion, and fulfillment in the Lord. And, more than this, you will see her again and your hearts will rejoice forever.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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