I preached this sermon at the funeral service for Linda Driedger, my aunt. Linda was a wonderful woman, full of smiles, who died from cancer at the age of 50. She taught anthropology, sang in many choirs, played the recorder, and was always ready to laugh at a joke. She taught me to drive stick shift and didn't complain when I drove in 4th all the way to Fernie. I will miss her very much.
Linda Driedger – December 11, 2007 – Okotoks, Alberta
Peter, and Nick and Jesse, and Lana, and Jean and Cliff, how can we even begin to understand the pain your family has gone through in the past few weeks and months? This is not something a family should have to go through; it is not fair that Linda died. It is not fair that you have been separated from her so soon, at this time of year that is supposed to be all about family gathering together. It is not fair that Linda will not be here for those pivotal family moments – for family dinners, for walks together, for weddings, or grandchildren. She has been separated from you and from her communities – church, and school, and friends – in a way that leaves us with so many unresolved feelings. Pain; despair; anger – that’s a good one; relief – that’s there, too, that she won’t suffer anymore; doubt – that there is a God who could let this happen. We can even throw in those moments of denial and numbness, too, just to round things out, but overall, I’m guessing there’s the overwhelming feeling that things will never be the same. The world is emptier, her voice is silent, her presence is missing.
But this is not the end of things. If there is one word of comfort that I can offer, it is that this is not the end. You, and we, are not separated from Linda forever. God does not allow such things to happen. As we have seen in the death and resurrection of Christ, God does not allow even death to separate anyone forever. In fact, in the readings for today that were chosen by Linda and Peter, along with the hymns, we hear God’s promise that one day we will all be together again.
The promise starts with Isaiah, and Davis read to us those strong words that God will one day gather everyone together on the mountain. What a lovely, concrete image for us to old on to! This gathering isn’t going to be in heaven, far away in some unrecognizable unearthly kingdom. It’s going to be here, on this earth that we love, on the mountain. It’s fitting, actually, that this is where it’s going to happen. The mountains have meant so much to Peter and Linda in the past few weeks – in a way, it brings thing full circle that this great reunion will happen on a dazzling peak like the ones right near us. These mountains are concrete, enduring, we can see them lasting until God’s promised reunion comes to pass.
And, you know, what a reunion it’s going to be! The reading says that Lord will make “for all peoples a banquet of rich food, a banquet of fine wine, of food rich and juicy, of fine strained wines.” The next time you see Linda, there’s going to be food. Lots of good food, lots of really good wine, and since Linda will be there, lots of music and lots of laughter.
But more than that, when we are reunited on that last day, God promises that there will be no more tears – “God will wipe away the tears from every cheek.” There will be no more tears because there will be no more death. Isaiah tells us that God “will destroy death forever,” and we will never have to experience the pain or suffering or grief that comes with it anymore.
Instead, we will have healing and joy and celebration, as we are reunited with those we love. Linda will be there, with her uncle Lee. Every single person you love will be there; no one will be missing. We can trust in that because of what we heard in the gospel reading from John. There we heard Christ promise that he will lose nothing, and no one, of all whom God has entrusted to his care. He will not drive anyone away, but raise them up on the last day. No one will be left behind, no one will be separated from their loved ones or from God. Because as Paul reminds us in our second reading from Romans put it, “nothing can ever come between us and the love of god made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord.” When that party on the mountain happens, there is nothing that’s going to get in the way of everyone being there. Not feelings of anger, not doubt, not grief. By the sheer love and grace of God through Christ, everyone will be there, and we will all be together.
But what do we do in the meantime? Because in the meantime, until that promised day comes, we have to get through this day. And the next day. And the day after that, and then there’s Christmas, and there are so many days between now and then. Are we left to just wait until that day happens?
No. For God, in the here and now, out of love and compassion for us, brings living and dead together in the gift of Holy Communion. You see, Communion doesn’t just bring together the people who are celebrating it at that particular moment. Communion, the gift of Jesus’ body and blood, brings together all people, who ever have or ever will share in this meal. At this table, as we each partake in the pieces of Christ’s body, we are all brought together in his one body, past, present, and future. Week after week, as often as you receive it, you are brought together in the shared bread and wine with Linda, and Lee, and all the living, and all the dead, as a prelude, a glimpse, a foretaste of that feast to come, that day when we will all be together on God’s mountain.
Everyone is welcome to this table, just as everyone will be welcome on that mountain on the day of the Lord. Christ turns no one away, and so everyone who takes part is drawn into God’s everlasting community, to be part of God’s love forever.
That is not to say that we no longer grieve for Linda or that you don’t feel the pain of being separated from her. But we can, simultaneously, cling to God’s promise of reunion in the future and the present. We can gaze at the mountains, and picture the great reunion feast to come, and we can come to Communion, where we are united in the love of God through Christ Jesus. Despite our pain, we can rest in God, who makes us to lie down in safety and in peace. And there we wait, clinging to the promise of God, for that great feast and reunion when we will be together with Linda and all those whom we love. And so we say, Come, Lord Jesus, Come. Amen.