While I was in Minnesota this past week and over the weekend, I was without cell phone most of the time, and without any internet access. Consequently, I was unaware that a friend, Mrs. Beth Schlamann, was reaching the end of her life on earth. When LaRena picked me up from the South Bend airport, she shared with me the news that Beth had died on Saturday the 12th. It was the end of her roller-coaster battle with cancer over the past couple of years. I rejoice with Beth, that she is at Peace and Rest; not simply that her sickness and suffering are ended, but that she abides forever in Christ, in the life everlasting for which she was created by God. Her soul resides securely with Him who became flesh and bore her sin in His own body to the Cross, who rose again and ascended to the right hand of the Father, there to prepare a place for her in the mansions of heaven. Her body, ravaged by a terrible disease, is returned to the dust from which mankind was taken; but not forever. The Word and Spirit of God shall raise Beth's body on the last day, and she will be all glorious indeed, in both body and soul, like unto Christ.
I rejoice with Beth, that her warfare is ended, but I grieve with her husband, Mark, my friend and colleague in the Office of the Holy Ministry. He knows and believes the Gospel, and the Word and Spirit of Christ will surely continue to sustain him in his sorrow. But I do not suppose that even such a faithful Christian escapes the bitterness that death causes. He was granted less than three years of marriage with his bride, most of that time spent caring for her in illness. I hurt for him, although I cannot claim to know the disappointment that he must be feeling. The only answer I have for his agony is the Cross. I know that is the right answer, and I trust it, but I cannot claim to understand that, either. By faith I rejoice in the Cross, but my sinful heart and mortal flesh do not like it; it seems to be nothing but foolishness and pain and finally defeat.
As it happened, I had lunch with Mark and Beth two summers ago, on the day they got the diagnosis of Beth's cancer. We were at the Synod's worship conference in Kenosha, Wisconsin. I had met each of them before, but I think it was my first opportunity to visit with the two of them together, as husband and wife. They both had a fiesty spirit and a witty sense of humor; I hope that Mark will not lose that. Sometimes we have to laugh in order to keep from crying, and that can be a way of denying the truth of sin and death. But when Mark and Beth would joke and laugh in the face of Beth's cancer and chemo, I think they were mostly confessing their faith and confidence in Christ. They have known their fraility and weakness, but they have also known and loved their dear Redeemer, and they have waited upon His Gospel for their real life.
During the time that Mark and Beth lived here in Indiana, not far from Bloomington where my DoRena goes to school, I enjoyed several opportunities to visit with them. God forgive me that I didn't find and make more such opportunities. It was a joy to speak the Gospel to them, and a humbling thing to observe the way in which they found delight in that simple Word of Christ.
People battle cancer all the time, but Christ has beaten it. Beth was a fiesty person in her life on earth, and she battled as valiantly as anyone I've ever known. From the temporal standpoint of the world, she has finally lost the fight. But she had already died years ago in the waters of her Baptism, and her real life has been hidden ever since with Christ in God. Her body suffered the curse and consequence of sin, but her mortal flesh was fed with the Body and Blood of the One who has conquered sin, defeated death, and trampled Satan under His feet. Death is always reaping its harvest, and foolishly building its bigger barns, but it is robbed of its prize. Nothing shall snatch the sheep of the Good Shepherd from out of His hand, nor ever be able to separate those whom He has called by His Gospel from the Light and Life and Love of God.