Funeral Sermon for Irene Serr; based on Pss 23 & 116:12-19; Jn 14:1-3, 27; by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson; Cook Southland Chapel, Medicine Hat, AB; October 28, 2013, two o’clock. We are gathered here today to draw strength and comfort from God and each other; to remember and celebrate the life of Irene Serr; to give thanks to the LORD for her long and full life; and to entrust her into God’s eternal care.
Irene was a faithful Christian woman, actively involved in various capacities at Grace Lutheran Church right up until it closed at the end of 2009. She was also a loving wife, mother, grandmother and great grandmother.
As Irene’s pastor at Grace, and later her chaplain at the Good Samaritan Society facility; I was privileged to get to know and spend quality time with Irene. Her devout faith certainly inspired me. During the years that I served as pastor at Grace, Irene was especially active in the ELW-women’s group. She very much enjoyed attending the ELW Bible studies. I know that she also faithfully read her Bible and devotional materials and spent time with Jesus in prayer. When she later moved into South Ridge Village, whenever she was able, she attended the hymn sings and the worship services. So when I think of Irene, the word faithful is an appropriate one to describe who she was and what her life was about: Faithful to her God, her church, and her family and friends.
Faithful to the end of her life, even in death she knew and trusted that she was not alone, as the comforting words of the twenty-third Psalm promise us: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for you are with me.” The LORD was Irene’s Good Shepherd—leading her through death’s valley, safely into heaven and eternal life.
As I remember Irene, I’m reminded too of our passage from Psalm 116. I think those verses also quite aptly describes Irene. Psalm 116 was most likely written by a servant of the LORD giving thanks for God’s deliverance or healing from some kind of danger or illness. The psalm forms part of a group of Psalms 113-118, known as the Hallel, short for Hallelujah Psalms, which were sung by the Israelites during the three pilgrimage festivals of Passover, Weeks, and Tabernacles. Our verses were likely part of the offering to God, sung in a spirit of gratitude during the worship service. Indeed, we Lutherans, in our liturgy also follow that Jewish tradition; since during the Lenten season, we sing verses 12-14 after the offering as the offertory hymn—giving to God our gifts with grateful hearts and lives, remembering that every gift comes from the LORD.
As I think of Irene, verse 15 in particular stands out: “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful ones.” After every visit I had with Irene, I realised how precious she was in the sight of the LORD. I’m sure you did too—especially you family members. I don’t mean precious in the sense that God places more value on any one person over all of the rest, no. In God’s eyes and before his holy presence we are all equals. Every life is valuable in God’s eyes. What I mean is that because of God’s grace and love poured out for Irene by Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross Irene and all of us are precious.
A faithful person’s death like Irene’s is precious in the sight of the LORD because, as a sinner she was daily forgiven by Christ and given new life in him; thanks to being baptised into Christ’s death and resurrection; thanks to the forgiveness received through participating in the sacrament of Holy Communion; thanks to the grace given and her faith strengthened and renewed through the power of God’s word.
A faithful person like Irene is precious in death because in life God regarded her as a valuable servant. God values the work of those who are faithful; the good they do; their example to others; their witness to others inspired by kind, caring words and deeds. Our LORD regards them as precious in life too whenever they face difficult times and keep the faith when tested to the limits.
So precious then is a faithful person like Irene that, as Jesus promises in our gospel today that he has prepared a special place in heaven. There is plenty of room in the Father’s house for faithful folks like Irene. Now she is in that heavenly home being welcomed with the loving arms of Jesus—just as her loving arms and hands prepared a wonderful welcome to you family members so many times as she cooked special meals for you on your birthdays, anniversaries and other holidays. Now, with all of her loved ones in heaven Jesus is welcoming her to that heavenly banquet feast.
So, since Irene is now in the Father’s home, another wonderful promise of Jesus has been fulfilled: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” Words of comfort and reassurance.
In the New Testament, the Greek word for peace is eirene. In English, it is Irene. Irene’s very name means peace. I think that she lived up to her name too, don’t you? She brought comfort and harmony and kindness to so many of her family members, church members, friends and neighbours. The biblical sense of peace is wholeness, harmony and well-being. Heavenly peace is not based on coercion or the threat of war or legalistic conditions and requirements. Heavenly peace is the complete absence of war; complete love. Heavenly peace is a perfect state: no more sin and evil, no more sadness and tears, no more pain and suffering. That is the peace Irene’s life reflected and that is the peace she now shall enjoy forever. I’m sure that heavenly peace would also be Irene’s wish, her hope, and her prayer for you too.
In closing, I’d like to share a prayer that the family gave me, which Irene prayed every day, reminding us again of how precious Irene was, the prayer goes like this: Good morning God, you are ushering another day, untouched and freshly new. So here I come to you God, if you’ll renew me too. Forgive the many errors that I made yesterday, and let me try again dear God to walk closer in Thy way. But Father, I am well aware I can’t make it on my own, so take my hand and hold it tight, for I can’t walk alone. Amen.