A reading from Revelation.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
Word of God, word of life. Thanks be to God.
1The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not be in want.
2The Lord makes me lie down in green pastures
and leads me beside still waters.
3You restore my soul, O Lord,
and guide me along right pathways for your name’s sake.
4Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil;
for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil, and my cup is running over.
6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
The Holy Gospel according to John, the 11th chapter.
Glory to you, O Lord.
Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him." Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha said to him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" She said to him, "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.
Grace mercy, and peace to you, from God our Creator, and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
On behalf of all of us here at Central Lutheran Church, I extend to you Jean, Terri, Veronica, and Michele, and all Joe’s family and friends our heartfelt sympathy. Please know you are surrounded today with the love of Christ and the love of your friends.
We are here today to remember Joe and commend him to the loving arms of God. We are here to share our stories and our tears. We are here to celebrate Joe’s life, and give thanks to God for his time among us.
But, primarily, we are here to rejoice in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the first born from the dead. We are here to share in sacrament of Holy Communion, the meal Joe now enjoys at the heavenly banquet table in God our Father's house.
We are here to remember Joe. We have just heard four of his best friends share their stories. I am sure that all of you have many stories and wonderful memories of Joe. I encourage your to share them when you gather with the family for lunch in the fellowship hall after the service.
This is a healing time when you can share the gift of your presence with the family. Tell each other your favorite stories and thank God for Joe’s life when you remember him together.
The church and the sacraments meant a lot to Joe. He was baptized as a young adult and Jean and her mother were his sponsors. As our head usher, he served on the worship committee and at one of the meetings last year, he asked me to explain about the paschal candle, the large candle you see back there by the baptismal font.
This candle is first lit each year at the vigil of Easter, and is one of the primary symbols of the resurrection. We light it for every baptism and every funeral as a reminder that we are baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ.
We light it today as a symbol of the promises God made to Joe at his baptism. God promised to love Joe as his very own child. God promised to be with Joe always during his life here on earth. And God promised that at the end of this life, Joe would be with the Lord forever. Last week, Joe went home and claimed those promises.
A few weeks ago, right after Joe entered the hospice program, I went over to visit. I asked if he wanted communion that day. He said, “Yes, communion is my favorite thing.”
So later, when we talked about this service, Joe said of course he wanted us to share communion. He told me which friends he had asked to speak. He said they would talk about him and it would be my job to pick out the scriptures for the service and talk about Jesus.
The scriptures I have chosen are about beginnings and endings. The first lesson is from Revelation, the book at the end of the Bible. But that lesson refers back to Genesis, the first book of the Bible, and the story of the garden of Eden.
You probably remember the part about Adam and Eve eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge, after God told them not to. God threw them out of the garden because of their disobedience.
The part of the story you may not remember is that there was another tree in the middle of the garden, the tree of life. The reason God banished Adam and Eve, our first parents, from the garden was to prevent them from eating from the tree of life.
You see, everyone who eats from the tree of life will live forever. God was saddened by human disobedience and didn't want us to have to live forever in our sin. Death was, in fact, a gift of God, to prevent us all from living an eternal life of sin.
We hear of the tree of life again at the end of the Bible, in the lesson I just read from the book of Revelation. It is such a beautiful picture. Imagine a tree so large that it spans a river. There are huge branches with 12 different types of fruit. The giant leaves have healing powers.
God loves us too much to let us continue to live in sin. God loves us too much to let death be the end. So God brought the tree of life back to us. In our life, here on earth, the tree of life looks different. It is shaped like a cross, the cross of Jesus Christ.
Sin and death overcame human beings through the tree of knowledge. Sin and death have now been overcome by the tree of life, the cross of Jesus Christ.
At the end of our lives, when we cross the river of life into heaven, the tree of life is there. In heaven, that cross is transformed into a tree so large that it crosses the river. It’s a tree so large, it bears twelve kinds of fruit.
Many of you are blessed to live in this area where you are surrounded by orchards. When you enjoy the fruits of our nearby orchards, let their delicious taste remind you of the tree of life. Let the sweetness of the fruit remind you of Joe, who now enjoys the fruits from the tree of life in his home in heaven.
The leaves of the tree of life are for the healing of the nations. God will use them to heal your grief. Remember that, when you see the leaves move in the gentle breezes. That breeze will be the very breath of God, the Holy Spirit, who gives you life and prays with you.
God has loved us from the beginning of creation. God has loved us by sending Jesus Christ to die on the cross for our sins. God loves us today and comes to us in the meal we share.
We will eat the meal together and know Christ is present with us. But we are still on this side of the altar and only get a small taste of that great banquet in heaven. On our side of the table, there is still sin. There is brokenness. There are tears and grief.
Joe sits now on the other side of the table. He is with Christ, who sits as host at the great feast with twelve kinds of fruit. It's Christ, there is no more sin, no more tears, no more sickness, no more suffering, no more death.
We give thanks and praise to God for giving Joe to us to know and to love during our travels in this life. We give thanks and praise to God that Christ, the Resurrection and the life, will come on the last day to gather us all. We will meet again at that great high feast.
Until then, goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives, and we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Amen. Even so, Come Lord Jesus.