When we considered this service, Sunday worship including a memorial service, I realized that there were some challenges. Some might attend the service who aren’t strongly connected to a church or faith tradition, but knew Debbie well. Some might be visiting, looking for a place to worship on Sunday morning with no strong connection to Debbie or her family. And there are those in the Christ Lutheran community who are here for both.
And as I considered this in terms of preaching, I realized that my task is the same for all three groups, to proclaim good news, to proclaim the promise. So how might we do that today? First, we can acknowledge that we are here on Sunday morning and we are here on Sunday morning because somewhere 2000 years ago the church decided that it was fitting for Christians to worship on the day of resurrection, that every Sunday is an Easter Sunday. The church gathered on Sunday morning to be reminded of an essential idea of faith, that through the cross of Christ, death is no longer an ending to be feared, but a gateway to new life, a gateway to a new existence where mourning and crying and pain will be no more. And to this idea those of you who knew Debbie know that she would give a grand “Woo-hoo!”
We can also hear the gospel in the words of scripture. Now at first hearing the gospel lesson for today may seem like its about paying taxes and has something to do with money, and those of you who may not have a strong church affiliation may be wondering if I am going to ask you for money. In fact, many of my members may suspect that I would talk about money. This is not a text about money, but rather it is a story about images. Jesus tells the people to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar based on the fact that the coin is stamped with the image of Caesar. Way back in Genesis 1, in the story of creation, the author also talked about images, saying that the human beings were made in the image of God. It is this image that Jesus refers to when he says “Give to God what belongs to God.” Give to God the things that are stamped with the image of God. Offer yourself back to God in love and caring, offer yourself back to God in joy and hope. Offer yourself back to God by offering yourself to those around you, by treating those around you with kindness and love and care. And here again we can reflect on Debbie’s life among us. I remember one of the last days that I was able to have a real conversation with Debbie was shortly after she had found out that her cancer had spread and there was a tumor growing on her leg. We talked about her disappointment and, at the time, possibilities for treatment. I gave her communion and as I left she said, very quietly in her Southern lilt, “Love you, Carl.” Not some romantic declaration, but the simple love that Christians are supposed to have for one another. It is rare that we speak it, perhaps because it is so connected to romance and that can lead to confusion. Yet it was an honest and beautiful moment, a reflection of the person who Debbie was and is.
We can also see the gospel in the community this morning. When we worship together in our tradition we do not sit still through the service. Yes, as you listen to readings and preaching, you can be a group of individuals, each of you listening and interpreting, the Holy Spirit at work, using my words to create a message that makes sense to you. But in a few moments you will be invited to stand and share God’s peace with people you know and people you don’t, shake hands or hug or nod or bow, look a stranger in the eye and say, “Peace be with you.” And in that moment you are the good news to one another. You are a message of peace, a gift of grace. That is God working through you, the promise that began on the cross 2000 years ago reaching to this moment, this community. The peace which, the apostle Paul wrote, “passes all understanding” the peace that goes by many names, “Shalom, wholeness, security, wellness,” the peace which Debbie experiences right now, be with you.
And finally, we can receive the gospel at the communion table. For those who are visiting, I will announce at that time that we have an open table, which means, whatever your tradition, you are welcome to receive the sacrament at our table. Our table is open because it is an encounter with the gospel and the gospel is for all; Jesus is for all. As you come forward this morning, as you receive bread and wine, we proclaim that you are receiving Jesus, internalizing the promise, which is simply a beautiful idea. But there is another aspect of the communion table that I would like to highlight, an idea that we refer to as the “mystical communion.” It is the idea that when we celebrate communion, in some mysterious way we are connected to the whole body of Christ, all Christians in all times and places in some way celebrating with us. Jesus gathers us all together at the meal. When we gather at the table, Debbie will be with us celebrating along with all those that we have lost over time.
Think of it as one of the implications of Paul’s message from Romans, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, neither death nor life, neither things present nor things to come nor anything else in all creation. There is no diagnosis; there is no cancer; there is no final breath that can separate us. There is no mistake; there is no harsh word; there is no regret that can separate us. There is no time; there is no place; there is no ending that can separate us. This is the good news that we celebrate every Sunday in some way or form, but especially today as we remember one who is no longer with us in body, but remains connected to us in the body of Christ.
It is never easy to lose someone you love, but we take comfort in the good news that Debbie is held in the hands of God. Though her loss may leave us with sadness, this is where she belongs today, in the hands and promise of a loving God.