The following sermon was preached by Rev. Dr Thomas Winger at Grace Ev. Lutheran Church, St. Catharines, for the funeral service of Linda Ann Lantz. The order of service may be downloaded here.
Dear brothers and sisters of our Lord Jesus Christ, especially Kurt, Daniel, Ben, Nathaniel, Rachel, and mother Muriel: For me to tell you anything about your beloved wife, mother, daughter, and sister would be an insult, even though I knew her well. We all know that she loved her family more than anything else on earth—and we must say it that way, because we know she loved her Lord Jesus even more, who now holds her resting soul in the bosom of His Father. But Linda was focussed on her family more than anyone I know. You were so often with her at the seminary, and she never hesitated to leave work to care for you. She treated the students as her extended family, carrying on Kay’s old role as mother superior. She sat in church leaning on Rachel. And that family bond is what makes the separation we’ve now experienced so very difficult. When I learnt that Linda’s Confirmation verse was the opening line of Psalm 46—the basis of Luther’s great hymn, “A Mighty Fortress”—I was astonished, because my mind had already been chewing on the hymn’s famous final words, where Luther stands up defiantly to the devil’s attacks by singing:
And take they our life, Goods, fame, child, and wife,
Let these all be gone, They yet have nothing won;
The Kingdom ours remaineth. (TLH 262:4)
Those are tough words to swallow on a day like this. Is it really true that the devil can take our wife, our child, and yet have won nothing? Hasn’t he won something? Hasn’t he taken from us our most treasured possession in this life? Is it enough to know that at least we still have God’s kingdom? Faith can stand alongside those thoughts; it doesn’t always exclude anger and frustration and grief. We trust in the Lord’s goodness but still weep, as Mary wept at the death of her brother Lazarus even though Jesus was standing in front of her, as Jesus Himself wept before His dear friend’s cold tomb, even though He knew Lazarus would soon rise.
It’s tempting to accuse the hymn-writer Luther of being out of touch. How could he be so cold to such loss? What does a monk know about family love, anyway? It’s an accusation often tossed at celibate priests in the Roman Church today, who don’t know marriage from the inside as you (Kurt) and I do. It’s that very human response that led our new hymnal’s committee to recoil at their starkness and change Luther’s words. But the truth is that Luther wasn’t out of touch. He married his Katy, had six children with her (like you, Muriel), and may have written this hymn shortly after losing their second child in infancy. And yet, loving his wife and children to the utmost he could write, “They yet have nothing won!” The devil won nothing last Wednesday because he didn’t take Linda. He has wounded us, he has caused us pain and grief, but Linda belongs to Christ. He has defied Satan; He calls out, “You cannot have her, she’s mine!” Struck down on the battlefield of this life, Linda has nevertheless not been taken by the great Enemy, but has been carried with honour into the city of refuge, the fortress of our God. The only victory here has been won by Christ, who has triumphed over Satan, who has stolen her weak body from his grasp, who has taken up her weary soul and laid it in the lap of her heavenly Father. And so, “They yet have nothing won!” The kingdom hers remaineth.
That’s the most difficult confession to make in this life, to cling to the promise that death is not defeat, no matter what it looks like from this side of eternity. When we struggle to find the words to say it, we turn to God’s Word; we let Him say it for us, and we just say it back to Him. That’s why we filled this service with Psalms and Scripture readings and hymns that flow from them. We can say it like Martha. Martha struggled mightily at the death of her dear brother Lazarus, I’m sure. And puzzling to make sense of it, when she knew that Jesus had healed so many others, yet arrived too late to help him, her first words to Jesus sound like an angry accusation: “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died” (Jn 11:21). I have to admit that I always heard it that way: the cry of agony in the face of suffering that we ourselves so often utter. God healed others. Why didn’t He heal Linda? Add the name that’s lying on your heart, and I suspect you’ll join in the painful cry. But I’ve come to hear Martha’s words differently. Oh, yes, she was suffering. And when Mary, her sister, utters the very same words, she breaks down in tears. But it’s not a cry of anger or despair. It’s a confession of faith. “Jesus, even sickness and death is not too much for You to handle. If You were here it may have been different. But even in the midst of death I put all things into Your hands.” Don’t ignore the words that Martha immediately adds to her apparent accusation: “But even now I know that whatever You ask from God, God will give You” (Jn 11:22).
Did Martha expect that Jesus would that very day call out to her brother Lazarus, “Come out!” and, in defiance of four days of death and the stone walls of the tomb, raise him immediately to life? I don’t think so. By her own words, she was content to receive whatever comfort Jesus would give her from His Father, and to await the resurrection of the dead on the Last Day.
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” (Jn 11:23-27)
In this service we stopped the reading there. We know, of course, that Jesus for His own reasons chose that day to exercise His almighty divine power and raise Lazarus from the dead. He did it to show His power over death as the Prince of Life. He did it to show the disciples that when He would shortly die on the cross they shouldn’t despair, for the One who could raise Lazarus could Himself rise from the tomb in triumph. But can it be enough for you today to cling to these words alone without the rest of the story? Can you say with Martha, “my wife / our mother / my daughter / our sister will rise again on the Last Day?”
It is enough. Today we will lay Linda’s body in the ground “in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body”. We treat her body like a precious gift of God, to be held in trust until she needs it again, until God raises it up transformed from lowliness and weakness into the image of Christ. That is the Christian hope Martha so eloquently confessed for us and gave us to confess. But Jesus wasn’t content to leave her even with that great hope alone. It’s not enough simply to have this hope for the future. For Jesus couches His promise of the resurrection not simply in His divine power, but in His personal presence. It’s not enough to believe in the resurrection of the dead as some sort of medical miracle; you must first and foremost trust in Jesus’ words, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Say with Martha, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” Saying these words, death cannot touch you. Saying these words and believing them firmly, you have already passed over from death to life (Jn 5:24).
Jesus wants Martha and Mary to cling to Him. As He had once taught them when Martha was so busy in the kitchen, the greater portion, chosen by Mary that day, is to sit at His feet and hear His teaching (Lk. 10:38-42). Linda’s Confirmation verse once promised her, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1). God is our help not just “presently”, not just “now”, but through His “presence”. “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (Ps. 46:7). Linda now knows that presence more fully than she ever saw it in this life. She has joined the saints and angels around the throne of the Father in heaven to sing His praises and await the resurrection of all flesh. But we, too, can know His presence through Jesus. What a wonderful gift it was that after a night of sorrow and weeping, Linda’s family were able to gather in the seminary chapel to immerse themselves in Jesus’ loving embrace, to sit at His feet and hear His comforting promises, to take His living Body and Blood into their mouths. How wonderful to return to His fortress on Sunday to be with the saints on earth at the church named for Jesus’ Resurrection and again to meet Him in the flesh. This is how God is our refuge and strength, a help who is present in our trouble. He takes us into His fortress, feeds, nourishes, and protects us, and wipes every tear from our eyes. And soon, soon will come the day when Christ and His heavenly armies will be seen with those eyes, when He will call us into our eternal refuge with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. Amen. And the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
We remember and give thanks for the gifts that our Heavenly Father gave to Linda in her earthly life:
Linda Ann was born in Kitchener on June 1, 1971, to Alfred and Muriel Storer. She was reborn as a child of God in the waters of Holy Baptism on July 25, 1971, at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Kitchener. On Palm Sunday of 1985 she was confirmed in the Christian faith and was fed the life-giving Body and Blood of Jesus, which sustained her in body and soul throughout her life. She was united in Holy Marriage to Kurt Lantz on September 25, 1993, and blessed with 26 years of married life. God also blessed them with the gift of children: Daniel, Benjamin, Nathaniel, and Rachel. On November 13, 2019, God blessed her with a holy death and took her to rest in the arms of Jesus. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.