Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Family and friends of our Christian sister, Grace, welcome. Our dear Christian brother, Kenley: We gather here in this holy place today to celebrate your mother’s life in Christ, and to rejoice in the new life she now already enjoys in the comfort and glories of heaven. As we do, it is altogether fitting that we welcome you back to our parish family, too. This is your home in Christ. We pray this will be a time to renew your spirit, and to renew your presence among us.
Visiting with Grace in her nearby home was almost always a joy, mostly because she carried such a joyful attitude, even in the midst of difficulty. I would ask her how she was doing, and invariably, the answer was, “Well, I’m doing real well, for an old lady.”
We would both chuckle at that, and often her concern would soon turn toward asking how certain other members of the congregation were doing, especially many of her contemporaries, few as there might still be. At some point in almost every conversation, of course, the discussion would move to art, and to her love of painting. My grandmother Stenson was also an artist, and although she was never as serious or as capable a painter as Grace, it still gave us a common point of reference, and perhaps even a stronger bond of understanding.
We’d discuss some of the beautiful works hanging on the walls of her home, and sometimes I’d ask a question about the time or circumstances at which she’d painted it. It was enthralling to watch her as her thoughts drifted back to that time, and to hear her describe so lyrically where she had observed the scene she had painted, or how she had imagined it and conveyed that image onto the artist’s canvas.
Although she was obviously very talented, Grace was a master at deflecting compliments. That’s not to say she had false humility, or that she denied that her work was the result of a unique artistic gift God had given her—one which few of us possess. Rather, she kept both her abilities and the importance of her work in perspective.
Often her response to an observation about the intricate detail of a particular piece, or the beauty of the colors, or the overall composition would be, “Well, I just paint it as I see it. It’s never going to measure up to what God created in the first place.” She was right, of course, and it was good of her to realize it.
On many occasions, she would tell me that she hoped some day she could take me out to her studio behind the house, and show me not only where she worked, but also some of the pieces she still had in progress. Unfortunately, we never got to realize that hope. Without ever voicing it as a complaint, Grace would often hold up her hands, which had the obvious signs of quite severe arthritis in most of the joints, and say something like, “I just can’t work very much anymore. These hands have done a lot of work.”
They certainly had done a lot of work, as was evidenced all around her home in her paintings, and in those paintings that now certainly are—or ought to be—possessions even more-treasured by many. But, it was also easy to see that Grace’s hands held the precise, trained position and shape of countless hours grasping an artist’s brush and palette even then, well after she had ceased to regularly engage in one of her great loves, painting.
Although we know from medical science that there are a lot of genetic factors involved in arthritis, all diseases—even that one—are among the many signs and consequences of us living in a sinful, fallen world. The pains and the plagues, the scares and the scars—all of them derive from the rebellion of mankind from our Creator. Grace sought to represent the beauty of that creation in her renderings of the world around her, but she knew she was not the Creator.
What’s more, she knew that she needed a Redeemer, and a Sanctifier. For she in addition to hands that had been shaped by both love and sin, Grace had a soul that lived in the tension between love and sin, too. As do we all.
As I was searching for what message of the Gospel to proclaim to you today, it was that sentiment that led me to select our Gospel reading for today, from St. John, chapter 20. The disciples of Jesus were scarred and scared, too. They were plagued with pain as well. Their teacher, leader, and friend had been crucified. Hung on a cross to suffer and die, an agonizing torture usually inflicted on only the most horrible or dangerous of criminals.
But Jesus wasn’t horrible; He had been perfect. He hadn’t been dangerous, either; He had brought health, comfort, safety, and love to many. He had even brought several people back to life, one not too far from Jerusalem, where the Twelve and those in their company now hid behind locked doors. Jesus had only been considered dangerous to those who feared their positions of power in this life would be threatened, for they sought to please and to gain the acclamation and respect and the approval of men, not of God.
But for fearful people such as these, and for fearful people such as the disciples cowering in the evening of that first day of the week, and for fearful people like you and me who know our sinfulness, and even for those who don’t fear the judgment of God, Jesus came. He came and stood among them, as He comes to stand among us, saying, “Peace be with you.” He declares that our time of fear and sadness has an end.
With wounded, scarred hands and a pierced side, He tells us there is peace. Not just a cease-fire; not just a truce; but real peace. God and man are no longer at war.
The treaty was written in blood and posted on a cross, and it consists of a single, powerful word: Jesus. Those who call out this one Word, who call upon His name in love and trust, have peace. They have an eternal place in their Father’s house, and they are glad. The only-begotten Son has died, giving birth to countless new sons and daughters. He shows us His hands, which carry the marks of a love so deep that He allowed Himself to be disfigured for our salvation. But such beautiful wounds they are, for all that they have accomplished for us.
The Father sent His Son so that His hands would carry the marks of the nails, and so that His feet would be beautiful upon the mountain, carrying the Good News of forgiveness, reconciliation, and life everlasting. He sent Him so that His side would be pierced, giving forth a rushing flood of holy water and holy blood, the eternal, unstoppable, never-failing fountain which gives birth to our faith in our Baptism, and strengthens and sustains it in our reception of His Holy Supper.
The Father also sent the Son so that He might give us the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life. It is He who lifts us up when the world has beaten us down, when we have seen and experienced our offenses and the transgressions of others, and when we need to hear once again the voice of the Comforter, saying through His servants: “I forgive you all your sins.”
And so I encourage you all: Do not be away like Thomas. Do not be missing from the safe sanctuary where Jesus’ disciples now gather when Jesus comes, bringing His peace, His gifts, and the Holy Spirit. Not hiding in fear, but living in joy.
Come and be encouraged.
Come and be loved.
Come and be strengthened.
Come and be forgiven.
Come and be glad when you see the Lord.
The risen Lord has come and stood among us, showing us His hands of love and mercy. He has absorbed all your sin, atoned for all your faults, conquered death, and subdued hell. He has come through the doors where our hearts hide in fear and into the self-built prisons where we are bound by our guilt. He will heal all our infirmities, and give us new, glorious bodies free of pain and the disfigurement of sin—even as He has now done for His faithful and beloved servant, our sister Grace.
With sure and certain confidence in the resurrection of the flesh and life eternal: “even so, I am sending you. Peace be with you.” In the blessed name of (X) Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Amen.