Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Our text is Anita’s Confirmation verse, Revelation 2:10, which says, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life.”
The crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ told the Apostle John to write these words to the troubled Christians in the Church at Smyrna. They experienced trials and persecutions in such measure that they wondered if they should still continue to confess the Lord as their God. Smyrna’s Christians experienced worldly poverty, but Jesus reminded them just how rich they were in the holy things of the Lord—things like forgiveness, eternal life, salvation, hope, the Word of God, and the eternal inheritance awaiting them. “I know your tribulations and your poverty.” Jesus said to them. “Do not fear what you are about to suffer.”
Jesus could say this to them—and to us—because He is not a God who is far off. He does not watch from a distance, as Bette Midler would say He does. He became one of us—Emmanuel, God with us, God dwelling among us—for our salvation. He knows our trials and struggles—not just from observation, but because He experienced them Himself. His first bed was a food trough for livestock. His family fled with Him to Egypt to preserve His life from the murderous intentions of King Herod. He mourned the death of His friend, Lazarus. And He felt the excruciating pain of the scourge, the humiliation and mockery brought upon Him by both the Jews and the Roman soldiers. He was forsaken by His father, suffering and dying on the cross.
Anita certainly experienced a great deal of tribulation throughout her life. It’s heartbreaking enough to bury one child; Anita buried three young sons. She also buried her husband and eight siblings. She experienced health issues of her own. She spent most of the last years of her life in a wheelchair, and her memory was failing her near the end of her life. In our many visits together over the past seven years, first at the Manor and then at Three Springs, she often despaired that she was still here on earth. She frequently expressed to me her longing for the Lord to take her home.
And yet, through all of this, Anita did not lose her faith. Through all these struggles, she rejoiced at how the hand of the Lord upheld and sustained her. She rejoiced in the many blessings she had received from the Lord: a loving husband; a faithful daughter who visited her nearly every day; grandchildren and great-grandchildren; food, shelter, clothing, and, indeed, “all [she needed] to support this body and life;” and she especially rejoiced that the Lord made her His child in the waters of Holy Baptism, that He forgave her sins, and that He fed her with His own body and blood. This is not to say that Anita was worthy of all these blessings from God, or that she had strength or reason to trust in the Lord on her own, or that she earned her place in heaven. But she took the Word and promises of God very seriously. She wore out two copies of the Bible, diligently surrounding herself with that Word and clinging to those promises. Her pleas for the Lord to take her home were pleas of faith, for she knew the eternal joy the Lord would give her, the removal of tears and sorrow that were promised to her, and the reunion she is experiencing even now with those she loved who had gone before her in the faith. By the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit within her, Anita was faithful until death, and now the crown of eternal life belongs to her.
This promise is for you, too. Of course, just as this was true of Anita, there is no way that we can remain faithful in our own power—nor could the Christians in Smyrna or any of the other Christians who have died for their faith down through the centuries. Faithfulness only comes by the power of the Holy Spirit, even in good times. That same power of the Holy Spirit—the Spirit you have received in the waters of Holy Baptism—will give you the faith to cling to the words and promises of God.
So “do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer.” Do not be afraid of the grief that you’re experiencing right now. Do not be afraid to mourn. Anita was a blessing to you, and it’s okay to miss her. Do not be afraid, for the Lord is with you. He knows your pain, your suffering, and your grief, for He is with you, and He will not leave you nor forsake you. He will send His Spirit to keep you steadfast in the faith. By His grace, you, like Anita and all those we love who have departed in the faith, will receive the crown of life. Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.