Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:25-26)
When mom asked me if I could conduct her funeral service, at first I wanted to decline because I knew how hard it would be. Mom also understood this, but she wanted very much that I lead the service, as I had done at dad's. Mom planned every detail. What she wanted to wear at her funeral, which hymns to sing, who absolutely must be invited, what kind of service she wanted. Mom always planned well. But no one can plan the day of his death. No one can ever know when he will die. Yet we all know that someday we all will. No one has escaped the claws of death. We have but a few choices: ignore the truth that we all will die; fear the fact that we will die; or accept it and prepare for it. The Bible teaches us:
Set your house in order, for you shall die. Let your loins be girded about, and your lamps burning; Then you watch, for you do not know when the lord of the house is coming, at evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrowing, or early; lest he come suddenly and find you sleeping (2 Kings 20:1; Luke 12:35,37-38; Mark 13:35-36). Mom set her house in order, had her loins girded about and set her lamps burning to the very end.
Many people these past few days have told me that mom was a optimistic person, a good person, a helpful person. I am thankful for these remarks and these words of comfort help make this hard time easier to bear. Notwithstanding, many more people were bewildered at how peaceful mom was at accepting her approaching death and how she could so freely talk about it and plan for it. Some, incorrectly, thought it to be Western thinking, while others correctly assessed that it was her faith that gave her security and peace.
My mother was not a theologian. Her knowledge of the Bible wasn't great. But she had a practical theology, which every Christian should have. She read the Bible every day and prayed to God in the morning and evening – for her sons, grandchildren, congregation, friends. There were two things that bothered her the most with the progress of her illness: that she could no longer participate in Sunday church services and could no longer visit and help the elderly of the congregation, who were more her friends, than simply diaconate objects.
Faith in Christ's victory over death gave my mother the courage to look death in the eye and say along with Job:
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall rise on the earth at the last; and even after they corrupt my skin, yet this: in my flesh I shall see God. (Job 19:25-26)
Mom knew Who gave her life and, therefore, knew Who will take it away, hence Who holds her life in His hands. She was not afraid of death, because she believed that Christ her Savior is risen. And because He is alive, she knew that at the last she will also live again. She believed that and did not waver in that faith at all.
Faith is not an empty hope to make us all feel better. Faith is the strong reliance upon the promises of God, knowing that in this world we will have disappointments, sorrows, hardships, but that God will never and by no means ever fail us. Perhaps we will have to go through fire and water, but God in Christ will never leave us. For we are His children.
There were two things that mom wanted that I should say in my homily – the first is that she loved her sons and did everything she could that they would have a better life than she did. Mom taught me what love is. Real love involves not only emotions, but love always leads to concrete action.
The second was that I should talk about God. Just as I, son of Rasma, received my flesh and blood in her womb, thus making us relatives, so mom received her flesh and blood from her mother. That is how it is with us all. We become human through our mother's. The Bible says
For You formed my inward parts: You covered me in my mother's womb (Psalm 139:13).
More importantly, as it is with us, so it is with the Son of God – Jesus. Jesus received his body and blood from his mother, the Virgin Mary and became human for eternity. And Christ in that very same body, given to him by his mother, was tried, crucified, died and buried. But on the third day He rose again and now sits in glory at the right hand of the Father. At Christmastime and every time we celebrate the Eucharist we remember the fact that God became man in Christ through his mother's flesh. But today, on the day of my mother's funeral I want to emphasize the fact that in that very same body in which He died, Christ also rose again. That is significant to us because, as we confess in the Athanasian Creed in Christ "God has taken humanity into Himself." Through baptism our mortal flesh is taken into God. Therefore we can assuredly confess that He will never leave us, because He has united His nature to our own.
Among mom's papers I found a small leaflet, which she carried with her on which in her handwriting was a quotation from Isaiah:
Fear not; for I am with you: be not dismayed; for I am your God: I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness (Isaiah 41:10).
Faith in the Triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit was the source of mom's strength. I do not doubt it in the least. May God grant us the same conviction and the same strength to look death in the eye and say – you have no power over me for my Redeemer liveth. Amen.