The text chosen for Ella’s funeral comes from Revelation 2:10b – “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” Here ends our text.
Steve, Jeff, family and friends, these words from St. John are words that we need to hear, especially on a day like today. In fact, these are words that we need to hear each and every day, for they are words of eternal life. These are words that brought great comfort to Ella and they are words that should bring comfort to you as well.
How, exactly, are we able to be faithful unto death? I don’t know about you, but in and of myself, I’m pretty faithless. Even worse, I’m completely faithless. As beloved a woman as Ella was, she too was faithless, and she would tell you as much. You see, the faith she had was not by her own doing, but by the grace of God. Lo, all those many years ago when the waters of Holy Baptism touched her head, she received faith. It was God who made Ella faithful, and she truly was faithful, even unto death.
That’s the joy of being Christian – it’s not about you. You don’t bring anything to the table except your sin. That’s what Ella brought to the table. It is because of that sin that we are here today, “for the wages of sin is death.” With that being said, it didn’t end there for Ella. It is because of Christ that Ella now rests from her earthly labors in the loving arms of her Savior. She didn’t do anything and she knew it. She never could and she didn’t try. She knew that her salvation rested solely in the work of Christ and not in herself.
This past week, we began the season of Lent, the time in the Church Year in which we reflect upon our sin and the love of God for His creation by sending Jesus to die upon the cross. It is a somber time, to be sure, but it is also a time of anticipation, a time where we rejoice in the risen Jesus Christ who has atoned for all sin. Fortunately for Ella, she gets to see her risen Lord a little earlier than the rest of us.
But for the rest of us here, what about us? What comfort do we have after losing a mother or grandmother or friend? Is there comfort for us in a time like this? The answer is yes, yes there is comfort to be found, but I caution you where to find said comfort.
Comfort found in worldly things will be comforting in the short term, but that comfort will not last. True comfort is found solely in Christ, for it is Christ who has won the victory over sin and death for us; it is Christ who comforts us by His sacrifice upon the cross, for there will we find life. That is where Ella placed her trust and that was her comfort throughout her life, especially the last few days. She was not fearful of death because she knew that death in this earthly life would be the beginning of her heavenly life. Remember the words of St. John: “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” Because Christ was faithful to her, she wears the crown of life now. In fact, she has worn that crown of life since her Baptism into Christ, for there she received all that was His, including the privilege of being called a child of God.
That fact, being a child of God, was not something which Ella took lightly. It is where she found her true comfort in this earthly life, because she knew that she was a sinner. She knew that on account of her sins, death would claim her, just as it will for everyone. But she also knew that because of Christ and His life, death, and resurrection, she need not fear an earthly death because it would not be permanent. She found her comfort in the fact that Christ has died for all her sin and given to her the gift of everlasting life.
Our comfort is found in the promises of God, promises that have been made and never broken, promises that will never be broken. These promises were not made lightly and God has ensured that these promises are kept. The promise made of a Savior is complete in Jesus. Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Those are not just empty words, but rather words of eternal life, for life is found in Jesus. Death is but a fleeting moment, for while the believer dies to this earthly life, they have eternal life in Jesus.
That is the joy that Ella had, a joy in the promise of a Savior kept. That is the joy that we have in Christ. That is the joy That is the joy that God intends for all of creation, for God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” This truth is a singular truth, a truth that cannot be replicated by worldly standards or found in your local big-box retail store. This is the truth that Ella held to and the truth that we hold to: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all….”
We will miss Ella. We will grieve for the role in our lives that she once filled. At the same time, we can take great comfort in the knowledge that she now wears a crown of life. She now waits with all the saints for that glorious day when the Lord will return with a shout and raise all the dead. On that day, Jesus will raise Ella’s body and reunite it with her soul, where He will take her body and soul to the New Jerusalem.
There is even more comfort for us on this day. The Good Shepherd, who laid down His life for Ella, also laid His life down for all of us. The Good Shepherd is the same Jesus Christ who died on the cross and rose from the dead. His death and resurrection offer you eternal life with Him and for all who believe in His name.
We bid farewell to Ella on this day. We shall never see her again in this life, but there is a life to come in eternity. Those who believe in Jesus will live again in His presence. As we live together in His presence, we shall be united again with those who have gone on before. As our Good Shepherd who will gather all believers into His flock, His presence, we shall see Ella again.
Until that day comes, our lives here on this earth go on. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we can faithfully receive the gifts that Jesus wants to give to us, just as Ella received. We can experience a foretaste of the feast that Ella now enjoys fully. At the altar, we can briefly attend the wedding feast of the Lamb while we wait for the day when we too will fully experience the joy of Christ’s presence with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, the company of heaven who now include our dear sister Ella. In the name of Jesus, amen.