Text: Psalm 118:1-21
Bud, Jay, Darrel, Carolyn, family and friends of Marlene, hear again these words from the Psalmist: “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” It’s hard to imagine that on a day like this, we would give thanks to the LORD, and yet, that is why we are here and that is what we are going to do.
But doesn’t that sound a bit out of sorts here, today, given the circumstances? Absolutely not, not when you focus on the words of our text and when you remember why we are gathered today. While we gather to mourn today, we also gather to rejoice, rejoice in what God our heavenly Father has done for Marlene and all believers through Christ our Lord. We certainly give thanks to the LORD today; thank and praise the Lord Christ who was to come for the mercy and spiritual deliverance to be accomplished by Him.
It is goodness when someone does good to the undeserving and unworthy. Marlene wasn’t deserving or worthy of what Christ did for her; in fact, none of us are deserving or worthy of it. From man’s fall into sin, we were excluded from what God had prepared for us – a life in a literal paradise with God. God, however, imparted benefits through the incarnate Christ to the unworthy and undeserving, in fact, to those who deserved much ill. The ill that we deserve is death because of our sin, so says St. Paul, “For the wages of sin is death….”
Death is what ultimately claimed Marlene on Saturday, at least in this earthly life. Around 6:45 Saturday morning, Marlene left this vale of tears and was welcomed into the loving arms of her heavenly Father. That is precisely what our psalmist means when he says, “Out of my distress I called on the LORD; the LORD answered me and set me free.” In our distress of sin, God saw fit to answer us and to set us free from our captivity to sin. This harkens back to the first verse, since He is not good in that He gives physical things, but because He gives spiritual things and delivers from spiritual evils.
While Marlene may have had physical things, all those First Article gifts, none of that truly mattered to Marlene. What did matter to her was the gift she received in her Baptism – namely, the forgiveness of her sins and the ability to be called a child of God on account of the faith she received.
It is because of that faith that we are able to celebrate, to give thanks. We are able to give thanks because it was God that did all the work, it is God who still does all the work. Our salvation is not dependent upon what you or I do or don’t do. Marlene knew that. That is why I found her sitting in the back of the church week after week, hearing what God has done for her through Jesus Christ, receiving the gifts He freely gives to the believer. Despite knowing this, despite having received that gift of forgiveness, there she would be, sitting, hearing, receiving that which God had won for her.
Turning to the words of Psalm 118 again, we see the cause and strength of Marlene’s faith: “The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” Marlene knew from whence her strength relied. She knew that God was in her corner, fighting for her, protecting her, all the days of her life. It was God who fought to redeem her. Through Jesus Christ and His life, death, and resurrection, He fought against all that would separate us from God – the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh. He fought against evil one who would have kept us forever from God, crushing his head and defeating the devil once and for all.
Through the waters of Holy Baptism that graced her head all those years ago, it was a daily reminder of God’s promise to her that she belonged to Him. It was a daily reminder to her that God had placed His name upon her, washed her clean in the blood of Christ, made her a new creation, forgiven her all of her sins. When the psalmist asks, “What can man do to me?” Marlene knew that answer – absolutely nothing! There was nothing that man could do to her to undo what God had done to her. Regardless of what sinful man could or would do, Marlene would prove to be the victor because of Christ.
For you, Christ has done the same thing. He has laid down His life in order to give you eternal life. He has defeated death, once and for all, so that your earthly death would not be a permanent death. The death you face in this life is merely temporary. It is but the door to eternal life in Christ. When Marlene breathed her last breath Saturday morning, she saw God. The moment she breathed her last breath, she was in the arms of her heavenly Father.
For the believer, we know that our trust is not to be found in earthly things, and so the psalmist says, “It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes.” What can man do but disappoint? What can man do but fail us over and over again? What can God do but sacrifice His only-begotten Son, so that you would have eternal life? What can God do but turn His back on His own Son, so that His death on the cross would be that all-sufficient sacrifice to redeem creation – to redeem you, to redeem Marlene?
It is because of God and no one else that the psalmist could say, “The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.” Those are words that Marlene could say and did say. Those are words that you are privileged to say, for our salvation is not found in ourselves but in God.
Hear these words and hear them well, for they are words of great comfort to us: “I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD. The LORD has disciplined me severely, but he has not given me over to death. Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD. This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it. I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.” While Marlene may have died in this earthly life, she most certainly lives in Christ. While you will die in this earthly life, because of Christ, we have everlasting life. We have not been given over to death because Christ has died in our place – dying to sin and rising triumphantly so we too may die and rise again. The gates of righteousness have indeed been opened, the path to our salvation secured. What joy and comfort there is, knowing that because of Christ, this has been done for us.
After hearing the psalmist’s words, it is indeed appropriate for us to echo his words: “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” We do give thanks to our God this day – for the earthly life He has granted to His servant Marlene, and the blessings she has been as a daughter, sister, wife and mother. But even more, we give thanks to our God this day, for He has called her to faith in Jesus Christ, won for her the forgiveness of all of her sins, and granted to her the gift of everlasting life. In the name of Jesus, amen.