Sermo Dei: +Edward Pontarelli+

Text: John 6:27–40; Revelation 7:9–17

Dear Alice, Terry, Cherie, family and friends; grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

“The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21b)

Those are words of tremendous faith, uttered by Job. He’s just lost everything: home, property, servants, even all his children. And yet he remains faithful and leaves all things in the hands – the merciful, loving, trustworthy hands – of the Lord.

I remember these words coming up somewhat casually on Wednesday night, after our dear Ed had fallen asleep in Christ. So I want to bring them up far less casually now: these words of Job teach us how to respond to everything which we go through in our lives. The mark of a Christian is to trust that God’s will is good for His beloved people – no matter how difficult it is.

I’m guessing each of you is at a different place in terms of this trust in God’s will. Over these next weeks and months, possibly even years, you’ll encounter anger and sadness and thankfulness; you’ll continue to find yourselves at different places, different levels of trust. This is going to happen, as your sinful flesh wars against the faith and trust which God gives.

It is because of this same sin that death has to happen. The Old Testament reading for last Sunday revealed to us why: from just after the beginning of creation, man disobeyed God. The forbidden fruit was eaten. That disobedience – we call it Sin – infects every one of us. And “the wages of sin is death.”

That’s what we deserve; every one of us. Ed deserved it too. Now, if you read his obituary, he was quite something, wasn’t he? He loved and served and did much good for his family and friends, even for his country. But that’s nothing – meaningless – in terms of getting right with God. “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” Jesus says that, reminding us that we are beggars, relying completely on Him to make us right with God.

And God the Father took care of all that for Ed. The Father sent His beloved Son. He sent Jesus to bear all the sin of all the world, and carry it to His cross, and die for it. Jesus took our place. Jesus took Ed’s place, and bore the punishment and wrath of God. Jesus died to pay what Ed owed God for all of Ed’s sin.

Yet Jesus rose. And when Ed was baptized Jesus’ death and Jesus’ resurrection became his own. Jesus’ perfection and obedience to God the Father (we’ll call it His righteousness): that all became Ed’s when he was baptized. Ed owns it now, just like he owned the boats and everything else.

But this ownership is far more important. Because Christ’s righteousness which now belongs to Ed brings with it a promise. Ed believed that it was his. Ed believed that he was forgiven. Ed believed that he no longer had to worry about death, because Christ had given him eternal life.

And it is so for Ed as he believed. Jesus did not stay dead. He rose. Ed will not stay dead. “I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus says. “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”

Jesus doesn’t lie. Ed will not stay dead. He’s only sleeping. His body will rest in the grave; his soul will recline at the Lamb’s high feast in heaven, for now. On the Last Day Jesus has promised that He is coming back. He will “descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And Jesus will call Ed up from his grave. Body and soul will be restored together, as they are created to be. But he will be perfect, glorified. He will have a voice and will sing the praises of His Lord and God. Jesus says,“For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” Dear ones, those words of Jesus are your comfort and hope. Cling to them as you mourn. Ed is alive in Christ for eternity; now in heaven with Jesus; on the Last Day bodily, physically, in the new heaven and new earth with Jesus.

I never knew Ed before his stroke robbed him of his words. But he still had a voice, and he used that voice in faith every time I’d conduct the chapel service over at Villa East. Pastor Stuenkel can attest to this, too. It would come time to sing whatever hymn we had for the week – usually Rock of Ages or Amazing Grace or Abide with Me or something like that – and Ed’s eyes would light up and he’d sing out those hymns. You didn’t need to hear words fully formed on his lips; the praise of God sprang melodiously from within him. It’s something I’ll never forget.

I chose the reading from Revelation for today for precisely this reason. It’s a picture of all those who are with Christ in heaven, gathered around His throne, worshiping Him. “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” That’s all about baptism; Christ’s red blood made Ed white as snow in the baptismal font. And these blessed saints are sheltered by the presence of their Lord Jesus. They’re not hungry or thirsty. They can’t be harmed in any way. In the presence of Jesus nothing can harm you, not even death.

And this reading from Revelation is a picture of the fulness of the worship of God. When you next go and receive the Holy Communion, know that you are joining with all these saints in heaven – Ed included – gathered around Jesus. We only get a foretaste of it now; just a glimpse. But Ed sees it fully. And this is the best part: he’s singing. John beheld the whole company of heaven gathered around the throne, and heard them sing the eternal praises of Jesus: “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

And why sing these praises? Because Jesus has died for sin, has risen, and has given to all who believe and are baptized the gift of complete forgiveness and salvation from their sin, and the marvelous blessing of eternal life. Especially Ed.

Amen.

– Pastor Michael Schuermann
S.D.G.