Funeral of Esther Mueller, (February 22, 2014)
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Rev. Todd A. Peperkorn
TITLE: “Death is Swallowed Up”
Arden, Sherree, Linda, Dennis, grandchildren, family and friends of Esther: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for today is the Old Testament lesson just read from Isaiah chapter 25. We focus on the words, “He will swallow up death forever” (Isaiah 25:8 ESV).
Esther Jane Mueller nèe Womack was born on June 19, 1930 in Memphis, Tennessee. She was baptized into Christ on October 23, 1949. She was confirmed in the Lutheran faith in April of 1953. She met her dear husband, Arden, while serving as a switchboard operator in the Air Force. They were married on September 11, 1952. They have three children, Sheree, Linda, and Dennis, with many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She died in Christ in on February 20 in the year of our Lord, 2014. “And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!”” (Rev. 14:13 ESV)
Eighty-four years is a lot of history. Tennessee, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Alaska, Minnesota, California, and other places in between . Three children, a passel of grandchildren, and that is not even including all of her spiritual sons and daughters here at Holy Cross. She has been a part of this place before there even was this place. I’m sure each of you has your own memories of Esther.
My most vivid memory of Esther is admittedly an odd one. It was a time when our deaconess and I went to visit her and give her communion. We were outside, looking around the yard and fruit. Arden, Pam and I went around the corner to check out the garden, and when we came back. Esther was no where to be found. Where does a ninety-pound woman in a wheelchair go? In the grass. Somehow she had slid off her wheelchair, and when we found her, she was lying in the grass, with her elbow holding her head up, looking like she didn’t have a care in the world. To some, falling out of your wheelchair would be the source of anxiety and heartache. But to Esther, it meant lying down in the grass with your elbow propped up, looking at the world going by. She was at rest, and it was a good place to be.
The last several years had been difficult for her. The illnesses of her body seemed to be getting the best of her. Her memory was not what it once was. The vitality which once made her who she is seemed to be slipping away. Her southern accent became stronger, while her body became weaker. I’m sure everyone here would agree that it is hard, very hard.
That is the way of life and death under sin, which we all endure. St. Paul says that the wages of sin is death, and we must all pay those wages out sooner or later. It was no different for Esther. Her life was, like all of us, as broken as her body. She was a sinner, and so death came to her just as it will come to us all.
But that is not the end of her story. Our text from Isaiah speaks about a time when the feast will be greater than you can possibly imagine. Food and wine. Everything will be perfect. No cake, only pie. But the one phrase that really grabs you from this is this, “He will swallow up death forever” (Isaiah 25:8 ESV).
Death is the great enemy. It is the one who takes our loved ones from us, either expected or unexpected. Death messes things up, it causes pain and sorrow so that our very hearts will break for the pain of it. The world may try to give us the picture of death as natural, as a part of life, but we know better. St. Paul was right when he said that “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:26).
But Jesus Christ has conquered both sin and death on the cross. Our Lord paid the price for all of Esther’s sins, and yours, and mine. Our Lord paid the price, and was laid to rest in a tomb. He took death into Himself by His own death. And He rose again from the dead on the third day, so that death would be swallowed up forever.
That is why we sing these Easter hymns this afternoon. We sorrow, but we sorrow with hope, because Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. We weep, but our tears will come to an end at the Last Day. We hurt, but the consolation of God’s love will comfort you and keep you in Him. Esther’s death is hard. It stinks for us who are left here on earth. But she is with saints and angels and all the company of heaven. No more pain, no more heartache. She is at rest in Christ, when goes to the grave with her so that she will rise again at the Resurrection.
Beloved in Christ, rejoice with Esther and with all the saints and angels of heaven. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, and because of that, you, too, shall rise from the dead. That is your comfort and your hope. That is your home. And some day we will be reunited with Esther and with all those who have gone before us and are now with Christ.
So until that day, Esther, rest in peace. Rest in Christ because Christ is at rest with you. Prop your elbow up and look upon the face of Jesus, who loves you with an everlasting love. We will join you there, soon.
Believe it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
And now the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith to life everlasting. Amen.