05 April 2019

The Lord Has Prepared His Table for Bernice in His Father's House

So there are these two disciples of our Lord who have journeyed together on the Road to Emmaus (let’s call it Indiana 23).  Side by side they have lived and walked and traveled, at home and away, within the Lord’s House, and with their family.  They have surely had their troubles and hardships on the way, their own various health issues, and their daughter’s stroke and subsequent struggles; but you would rarely have known or hardly have guessed any of those burdens they bore.

Bernice and Eldon have always radiated joy and contentment.  Look at the wonderful picture from their 50th Anniversary celebration, and you can see it so clearly in their faces and their smiles.  They embraced their life together in real happiness — playing cards, dancing, quilting, traveling.

Bernice lived her life on the road to and from Emmaus, not only with Eldon beside her, and family and friends, but with the Lord Jesus.  She and Eldon lived together in the Word of God and prayer, reading from their Bible day by day at home, and worshiping together in the Lord’s House every week.  To be on the road with Jesus is to be in His Word and in His House, and so they have been.

And here is the truth: In the confession and prayer of His Word, in the telling and retelling of the story of Christ Jesus, He Himself draws near and journeys alongside of His disciples on the way, in both good times and bad, in all the joys of life and in its sorrows.  So has He been with Bernice.

I’m sure that all of us can relate to the sadness of those very first disciples of Emmaus on this day, as we mourn Bernice’s death.  She touched so many lives with her gentleness, quiet humor, and  compassionate love, her departure from this vale of tears has left an emptiness in our hearts and lives — none of us more so than you, dear Eldon, now left without your wife of sixty-two years!

But where we are all so tempted and prone to despair in our fallen, mortal flesh, the Lord Jesus gently chides our slow and foolish hearts, and He does not leave us to wallow in sadness and fear, not even in the face of death and the grave.  He comes alongside you today, as He has walked with Bernice and Eldon all these years, and He joins your pilgrimage through this valley of sorrow.

It was the presence of Christ Jesus that sustained Bernice in peace and hope throughout her days on this earth, all the more so in the final weeks and months of her mortal life.  When she spoke of her illness, of her cancer and its treatment, and of her hospice care at home, it was with the calm acceptance of her Lord’s good and gracious will for her, with faith and confidence in His Gospel.  Not by her own reason and strength, but by the Word and work of her Lord Jesus Christ.

So also for you, and for all of His disciples, the same Lord Jesus opens the Scriptures to reveal Himself to you.  He opens your ears to hear, your heart to believe, and your mind to comprehend the glory of His Cross, as He leads and guides you by His Word and Spirit into His Father’s House.

It is only by His Word and Spirit that faith is created and sustained in your heart and life, especially in the midst of adversity and hardship, under the trials and tribulations of the Cross.  Otherwise, you cannot comprehend the Cross or make any sense of it.  Neither are you able to bear the Cross  except by the Word and Spirit of Christ Jesus, whereby He calls you to fear, love, and trust in Him.

Even so, it is paradoxically by the way of His Cross that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, enters into His Glory; because it is by His Cross and Passion that He has redeemed His Israel from sin, death, the devil, and hell.  It is by His Cross that He has redeemed and reconciled you and all the world, including Bernice, to be His own.  For the Lord both wounds and heals; He kills and brings to life.

Indeed, the Cross and Passion of Christ Jesus stand at the heart and center of the Holy Scriptures, at the heart and center of the whole creation and all of history.  The Cross is the defining event by which the incarnate Son has fulfilled all that the Prophets have spoken, and accomplished His great Salvation for you and all people, and entered into His Glory as your merciful and great High Priest.  His Cross likewise defines and shapes your Christian faith and life on earth, as it did for Bernice.

His Resurrection from the dead on the Third Day, in accordance with the Scriptures, is therefore not a contradiction or the undoing of His Cross.  It is, rather, the manifest victory of His Cross.  And as He was crucified for your transgressions, put to death and buried in His Body of flesh and blood like your own (and like Bernice’s), so His Resurrection from the dead is your resurrection and your righteousness in the presence of God — which He now gives to you with His Gospel.

It is in that hope and confidence of His Cross and Resurrection that we are gathered as His people today.  To mourn, yes, but also to confess the sure and certain promise of the Resurrection and the Life everlasting, which Bernice shares with Him forever by virtue of her Baptism in His Name.

What she needed most in this body and life, and what you and all your family, friends, and loved ones need above all else — in order to share in the Resurrection and to live with God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — is more than just the news and information concerning Jesus of Nazareth.  What you need is Christ Jesus Himself, in His own Body of flesh and blood, crucified and risen.

So, then, especially at those times when He is hidden from your eyes, and when He appears to be moving on without you, He teaches you to pray, to call upon His Name, to bid Him come and stay with you.  And as He teaches you to pray, so does He hear and answer.  He comes and meets your every need by spreading His Table before you and feeding you with Himself from His own hand.

As St. Luke has here described so beautifully in this Holy Gospel, your catechesis on the road with the Lord Jesus brings you to His Breaking of the Bread, to the Holy Communion of His Body and His Blood, given and poured out for you, for the forgiveness of your sins and life and salvation.

It is here at His Altar in His Church that He is with you, as He has been here with and for Bernice throughout all these many years, revealing Himself in mercy, and giving Himself to His people.

That is what makes this place a true “Emmaus,” not only in name but in actual fact!  For He comes to make this humble dwelling into the very Temple of God.  We call upon His Name and ask Him to abide with us in grace, mercy, and peace.  And so He does!  But so it is that you become a guest at His Table within His Father’s House, wherein He serves as the Host, the Waiter, and the Meal.  So it was that He also came to visit Bernice in her home last week, to feed her with Himself.

To be sure, the Lord Jesus is with you on the way, in His Word, in your life and conversation — as surely as He has been with Bernice throughout the many years of her Christian faith and life.  But at the heart and center of it all, He is with you, as He has been with her — to love you and to serve you with Himself, and to open up your eyes — in the Holy Supper of His Body and Blood.

That is the destination to which He leads you and brings you by the preaching and catechesis of His Word, that you should find Him and receive Him in the Breaking of the Bread, and fear not death nor any other evil, but live in Him, both body and soul, here in time and forever hereafter.

But what then are we to think or say about Bernice, or about any of the other faithful Christians who have suffered and died across the centuries and around the world?  For Bernice has suffered, and now she has died.  Was her confident faith in Christ Jesus misplaced or in vain?  Have all her prayers — and all our intercessions for her — gone unheard and unanswered?  By no means!

The truth is that Bernice has been redeemed in body and soul by the Cross and Passion of Christ Jesus, by His holy and precious Blood, by His innocent suffering and death on her behalf.  Indeed, she shared both His Cross and His Resurrection already in her Baptism.  There she was crucified, put to death, and buried with Christ; and her life was thereby hidden securely with Christ in God.

So it is that all of her suffering in this life on earth, and now her death and her grave, are sanctified by the glorious Cross of Christ; and they are vindicated by His bodily Resurrection from the dead.

Such things are by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, and not by sight or sense.  But they are true and real and sure, even so.  That is why we do not mourn as those who have no hope, but as those who hope and trust in the Resurrection and the Life everlasting of our Lord Jesus.

Bernice was blessed with such hope and confidence by the Word and Spirit of Christ Jesus.  That was evident in the way she faced and dealt with her illness over these past six months, so gracious and at peace, so calm and content in Christ.  Not in denial, but in the confession of His Gospel.

Her faith and hope and confidence in Christ have been evident all along, certainly throughout the decades that I have been privileged to know her.  Evident in the love that she demonstrated for all her neighbors in the world — for Eldon; and for her family, her siblings, her children, and her grandchildren; for her many friends and fellow Christians; and for her Emmaus congregation.

Her faith and love were obvious in her gracious hospitality, as she and Eldon opened up their hearts and their home to others, hosting the Emmaus picnic for years, and sharing their tomatoes.

As Christ opened His home to her, so did Bernice open up her house and home to her neighbors.  As a member of the Body of Christ, she cared for the Body of Christ in His members.  And as she thus cared for the members of His Body, so did she receive and care for Christ Jesus Himself.

She was both a Mary and a Martha, no doubt, in both learning and loving; in both hearing the Word of Christ and sharing His hospitality; in both receiving the Body of Christ and returning thanks for that holy Gift.  Loving the Altar from which she received His Sacrament, she assisted for many years in caring for that Altar, especially by taking care of the flowers that adorned it.

And as often as the Lord gave His own holy Body and precious Blood into Bernice’s frail, mortal body — as He continued to do in the last weeks of her life on earth, there in her living room at home along with her family — He was redeeming her for Himself and for His Father in heaven, and sanctifying her body and soul with His Spirit, unto the Resurrection and the Life everlasting.

So it is that we lay Bernice’s body to rest on this day in the confidence that Christ shall raise her body from the dust on the Day of His appearing.  Though her poor body suffered such affliction in the final months of her mortal life on earth, then her body shall be made perfect and glorified, like unto the Lord’s own glorious body, henceforth immortal, imperishable, and indestructible.

For His Body and His Blood, given and poured out for her to eat and drink in repentant faith and with thanksgiving, are the down payment, the surety, and the pledge of Bernice’s resurrection.

As He gave Himself for her into death upon the Cross, and as He has given Himself to her in the Sacrament of His Altar, so has He received her to Himself and taken her into the palm of His hand.  He preserved her faith and life in Him throughout her pilgrimage on earth, on her steady journey to and from Emmaus; and nothing and no one shall ever be able to snatch her away from Him.

He has prepared His Table for Bernice in the House of His God and Father.  And as a member of His Body, as a beloved member of His Holy Bride, she lives and abides forever with Him in the blest Communion, Fellowship divine of His crucified and risen Body, enlivened by His precious Blood.  So does He also abide with you, and you with Him, in His Breaking of the Bread within the household and family of God, which is the Holy Christian Church, on earth as it is in heaven.

Though you cannot see it with your eyes (not yet, though someday you shall!), the Holy Spirit calls you by the Gospel to be gathered here at the Lord’s Altar with all the holy angels and archangels, with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, with Peter, James, and John, with Bernice and all the saints, to worship and give thanks to the Lamb upon His Throne, who was slain for all your sins, but who is risen from the dead — He is risen indeed! — and behold, He is alive forevermore.

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

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