A brief funeral sermon for Wayne Schuller

Image by Dimlamp

Image by Dimlamp

Funeral Sermon for Wayne Schuller, by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson, based on Romans 8:35, 37-39, Weber Funeral Chapel, Camrose, February 23, 2016, two o’clock.

For Wayne and his family members, the last few years have been challenging. Alzheimer’s and dementia can be a cruel disease. A person who is struck with Alzheimer’s and dementia suffers from both physical and mental losses. Family members can feel rather helpless at times as they see their loved one suffering from these losses. Family members observe how their loved one changes as Alzheimer’s or dementia takes its course and robs them of their faculties; so they no longer are the person that they once were. They can forget so much, even the names of their family members as well as their own name. Past memories of their family history and their own life story disappear. The mind becomes more and more like fog, unable to think clearly.

They also lose their ability to talk and walk, and even eating and drinking can become a challenge. They can become totally dependent on others. When death does come, it may be mixed with both sadness and a sense of relief. Sadness because you certainly shall miss your loved one and your life will not be the same without them. Relief because now your loved one’s suffering is over. Relief also for those who place their faith in God—trusting that their loved one is now in the loving, eternal presence of God.

Unfortunately, I didn’t know Wayne very well. However I’m told that even though he was not a “religious” man, he did believe in God. A God, who as the apostle Paul tells us in the passage from Romans, is always with us. Even though Paul faced many hardships and much suffering in his life, he was still very confident that nothing could separate him from Christ’s love—not hardship, not distress, not persecution, not famine, not nakedness, not peril, not sword. If Paul were alive today, and if you were to ask him about this, I’m sure he’d say that Alzheimer’s and dementia could not separate us from the love of Christ either.

Paul doesn’t stop there either, he goes on to speak with confidence that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from God’s love in Jesus our Lord. What a wonderful, encouraging, and hopeful message that is!

Why is it true? Well, because in the end, God has won the victory over all of these things. It may not seem like it right now, just like it didn’t seem like it for Jesus’ disciples when he died on the cross on Good Friday. Yet, surprise! surprise! God raised Jesus from death on Easter Sunday. God has the power to give life even after death. In this way God won the victory over the powers of death and evil.

So, for Wayne Alzheimer’s disease is not the last word, nor does it have the ultimate victory over Wayne. No! Rather, thanks be to God that Jesus, through his death on the cross and his resurrection have ultimately defeated Alzheimer’s disease and all other powers that work against God.

In closing I’d like to share this poem, “I Understand,” by Joy Rembert:

How difficult it must be for you,/To watch me become less of the person you once knew./My body is here, but my mind is not./The things we once shared, I may have forgot./This will be our longest goodbye./For the mind of the person you love, is slowing and will die./I will not act or behave like the person I once was./But please remember, it’s not something I have control of./I’m sorry for this burden I put on you./There will be some rough days, with teary eyes and hearts of blue./But let the love of so many years carry us the rest of the way./Because this is not forever and our souls will meet again one day.

Yes, thanks be to God that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord! For Wayne, there is a final victory over and life after Alzheimer’s thanks to Jesus. That is Wayne’s hope! That is your hope and mine! Amen.

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Ash Wednesday

AshWednesdayCrossYesterday, Ash Wednesday, marked the beginning of the season of Lent. I participated in an ecumenical service last evening. I was designated to explain the meaning of the ashes and do the imposition of ashes on the clergy, as well as help administer the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. It was a wonderful service held at the local Anglican church, with clergy representing the Anglican, Church of God, Lutheran, United, and Ukrainian Catholic churches.

In dialogue with the Ukrainian Catholic priest prior to the service, I learned a couple of things that surprised me. First, they do not use ashes in their Ash Wednesday services—for them Lent actually begins on Monday two days prior to Ash Wednesday. Second, the colour for Lent in their tradition is not purple, but red, since the latter is regarded by them as a penitential colour.

Ashes in the Western churches are important, since they symbolize our mortality, as well as combined with sackcloth, were associated with repentance in biblical times.

We were blessed and privileged to hear God’s Word read and proclaimed and all baptised Christians were welcome to partake of the Lord’s Supper.

The Anglican priest lead us in the beautiful Ash Wednesday penitential liturgy and he, along with two other clergy—one Lutheran, one Anglican, a visible sign of our full communion—were co-presiders at the Lord’s Table. The Church of God pastor began with an opening introduction, highlighting God’s mercy, and sharing information on a Canadian Food Grains project which our community supports. The United Church minister led us in the offertory prayer. The Ukrainian Catholic priest offered the closing benediction.

It was a very moving and humbling experience to have been there and help with administering the sacrament. It was also a small sign of the unity of Christ’s Body expressed in the rich diversity of our respective denominations.

As the World Council of Churches emphasized years ago, “doctrine divides, service unites,” so in our community, we joined together contributing our offering to the Canadian Food Grains Bank in service of those in need.

We left the worship service in silence; recipients of God’s mercy and grace, and given new opportunities to share the love of Jesus in thought, word and deed with those in need in our community and around the globe.