The following sermon was preached at the funeral of Max Tetil on Saturday, November 28, 2015:
Text: 29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation 31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”—Luke 2: 29-32
Melissa, Mike, and Miles, and all of you who knew and loved Max, who were privileged to call him ‘dad’, or ‘grandpa’, or even just a friend: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
There are places you don’t want to be at this time of year: searching for a parking spot in a crowded shopping center, the TSA security line in an airport, in the middle of the mob at a Black Friday sale. Then there’s here.
No, this is not the place to be at this time of the year. In some respects this will make the coming Christmas season a very difficult one. All the traditions, all the celebrations that will go on without Max for the first time. (I imagine you’ve already experienced that this week as you celebrated Thanksgiving.) But, by God’s grace, this might also be a far more meaningful Christmas. Christmas songs you know so well will take on new meaning, especially some of the verses that are often overlooked:
Hark, the Herald Angels Sing
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
In fact, I think that Max’s passing at this time of year seems rather appropriate. At the one time of the year when we see and celebrate spontaneous acts of kindness, of generosity, and selflessness, at this time of love and peace. It seems appropriate to Max somehow.
In the short time I’ve known him, I’ve found Max to be a rather a surprising man. He wasn’t the center of attention, and yet he was a champion bowler. He didn’t command everyone’s attention, but he touched so many lives. For me it started with the way he greeted me before/after the service each week—with a smile like we were old friends. For a number of children in the congregation it was the candy that I understand he often gave that made him so beloved. In fact, if you’ll allow me just a second to address our members here—if you’re here, I presume that you know how Max loved the children, how he showed them how important they were to him. Don’t let that end. Don’t let that die! To me, this seems like a particularly appropriate time of year.
And at this time of peace, such a man of peace received a peaceful death. If we ever stop to consider it, most people hope, and perhaps also pray for, a peaceful death—that is, a death where there is no pain or suffering. In the gospel reading we heard a few minutes ago, a man named Simeon tells of a different kind of peaceful death.
Imagine waiting in the temple year after year for the Savior to appear. In one respect he was blessed: God had promised that he would see the Savior. But that probably also made the waiting even worse. Year after year after year he waited until, finally, there He is—a (roughly) 6-week-old infant in the arms of His mother, Mary. What joy and peace—peace that reigns between heaven and earth because God has become flesh to take away the sins of the world.
Simeon’s response: “Lord, now you are letting me depart in peace; I have seen Your salvation.” Whether it happens that day or not for another fifty years, he can now die in peace because he has held the Lord in his arms.
So has Max. Here at this altar, week after week, Max has come and seen the Lord’s salvation. Like Simeon, Max has taken the Lord’s body in his hands. He has come to this communion rail and the body of Christ, now no longer a little child, but his Savior, wounded and crushed for Max, was placed in his hands for him to eat for his salvation; he has taken the cup and tipped Christ’s life-giving blood to his lips. He has touched the Lord and tasted that He is good. God gave Max the peace of heaven in His body and blood. One pastor after another has stood here and said to Max as he knelt at this altar and prepared to leave the table of the Lord: “Depart in peace.” And Max did. And Max has.
Could there be any more perfect verses for this man at this time than the ones his sister Elna included in her card, the ones Max heard as his eyes closed for the final time? There was the promise of what that Savior would do: “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). And there was the promise from our Lord Himself: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27).
Max’s death was the entrance into a life that never ends. When he closed his eyes in death with those beautiful words of peace in his ears, he was with Christ and His angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. The Lord has now let this, His servant, depart in peace.
Within the church, we don’t start celebrating Christmas yet. We’re observing Advent, a time of preparing for our Lord’s coming. So you won’t hear many Christmas songs here until Christmas Eve. Today, I think, needs to be an exception. Let’s sing one together: “Away In a Manger.” Let’s sing all three verses. If you know all three by heart, wonderful, if not, it’s #364 in the hardcover hymnal in your pews.
Away In a Manger (LSB #364)
And now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.