Pastor Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church – Dyer, Indiana
20. December 2010
Funeral of Marian Louise Wiening
“The Hope of the Garden”
+ IN NOMINE JESU +
Dearly beloved, Nola, David, John, Jennifer, James, spouses, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, visitors, and fellow redeemed – Grace, mercy and peace be to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The text for our meditation is the Gospel just read, especially these words of our Lord: “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for food that endures to eternal life.” (John 6:27).
God created Adam and Eve to care for his creation. He set gave them dominion over all creation. They were to tend for the plants and the animals. They were to be stewards of the good gifts God had given them. This they joyfully did, even walking with God in the cool of the day.
Its the sort of idyllic picture Marian hoped for. She greatly wanted a garden like our first parents. She wanted her flowers to blossom and flourish, her vegetables to sprout and grow. She cared for her plants like they had been given to her by God himself. She watered and cultivated, even when hampered by her walker in these last years.
Marian found her garden a joy … and also a burden. She struggled against those weeds. She hated them. She couldn’t stand the thought of yet another illegitimate growth. She would stew about in the home until the last weed was pulled. The weeds of those four gardens were a battle she would fight to her death. She would overcome their ill-natured attempt to strangle the good growth in her seed beds.
She fought those parasites tooth and nail and never rested until the last one was pulled. She won each battle. She never won the war. The next day, another set of thistles rose up. The next year, fresh minutemen rose up to squash her beautiful flowers. The struggle continued every season and year.
Marian wanted the idyllic life of Adam and Eve. She longed for the beauty of that first creation. She knew all too well that her hope was in vain. Ever since our ancestral parents rejection of God’s Word, the eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, all creation chafes at the dominion of man. Critters rise up against creatures. Beast attacks man. The seas roar and the winds howl. Flood waters surge and tornadoes ravage the countryside.
The special sign God spoke to Adam, Marian knew well. By the sweat of the brow, you will get your bread. The earth will yield thorns and thistles as much as flowers and vegetables. The cultivation of the earth is hard work. The blessings of flowers and food comes through difficult labor.
The chore of the garden is God’s sign that he still is displeased with our disobedience. He is not pleased that we have turned aside from his holy commands and follow our own whims and fancies. He hates that we listen to the Tempter’s lies and fall into great shame and vice. The great effort it took Marian to bring beauty and food into this world through her gardens is a hallmark of the effects of our continued disobedience to our heavenly Father’s will.
Marian knew this truth. She knew her Lord was displeased with her sin. The gardens told her that things aren’t quite as they should be. She longed for a garden that would yield flower and fruit in abundance. She hoped for a garden that would be filled with joyous work.
She labored in her gardens for food that perishes. Her hours wasted away, pursuing that last weed or trying to coax another vine to sprout. Yet, the weeds kept coming and the seeds didn’t seem to listen.
I think it reminded her too that things aren’t as they should be. Marian kept laboring in that garden because it reminded her of the good gifts of God to come. The garden taught her how her loving creator still provides for all his creatures, despite his anger over sin, in order that they might believe.
She knew that there was a better garden to come. Her struggles for flower and food reminded her that she needed a different food, a different garden, and a different world. She was like the flower and like the bread. The flower fades in the fall and dies in the winter. The food begins to smell and finally rots. No matter how hard she tried, she could not grow young again. She couldn’t restore her frail figure or her lost eye. Time kept ticking towards the inevitable end. Something had to change.
The evangelist St. John tells us about Marian’s hope for a different kind of garden with different food. Through the Holy Spirit, we hear about a food that endures to eternal life. Jesus said to them … “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Earthly food lasts for a time and then goes rancid. Heavenly food is instilled with the preservative of the divine. It never rots nor stinks.
Actually, this heavenly food isn’t an “it” but rather a “he.” The bread of God is Jesus Christ our Lord. He is the food that gives life. He is what nourishes us to eternal life. Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
Marian knew where to find the different garden, where the rose bloomed freely and the bread was harvested in abundance. Marian knew where to find what her earthly gardens never quite seemed to give. She knew where to feed and see the hands of time reversed. She knew the garden where sin and sorrow no longer grows nor thorn infests the ground.
Marian knew her Lord by hearing his saving Gospel, receiving the adoption of Holy Baptism, and being sustained for her long ninety-one years through his precious body and blood. She knew where to find him. “Where two or three are gathered in my name around my holy word and gifts, there I am,” says Jesus. Most of all she knew why he mattered. He is the bread the never perishes. He is the rose that never withers. He is abundant and eternal life, given and shed for her.
Jesus too knew Marian’s condition. He knew how her life, especially in the years after the accident were joy mixed with sorrow. He was not content with her laboring to death. Marian was his sister, his own flesh and blood. Their shared heavenly Father wills that none of his children be lost but instead raised up on the last day. Marian knew this truth and believed.
That’s why she labored diligently here in this congregation. She wanted others to grow up with the only food that lasts to everlasting life. That’s why she tended for the fertile seed bed of you, her children’s hearts. That’s why she instilled in all her children and grand-children this same truth. She knew that the food on our tables only stalls the death we deserve. There is a fate worse than death and that’s to die apart from God. She knew that one thing needful, to know her Lord and so receive his life. She knew that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.
The holy Christian church is the best kind of garden. The sprouts raised up here don’t die each each season. They are tended and nourished by the Creator himself. The life of the believer is fed by Christ himself, the bread of heaven. We receive him in Word and Sacrament and his life becomes ours. The garden of the church never withers or fades. It is life for all who looks on the Son and believes in him.
The life we receive from Christ is not suffering and toil. Its not the hard labor of planting and weeding. The hard work has been done. Christ died in our stead. He took the thorns of the earth into his brow. He was scourged by the reed. As he hung from a tree outside the garden, the sun darkened and he faded like the flower and returned to the dust. He was placed in the cold tomb, damp and dark like the winter.
And then the dawn rose and spring came. From the tomb the angels cried out, “He is not here, he is risen!” The venom of the serpent, the noxious fumes of his murderers, nor the strangling weeds of falsehood could keep in the ground. That’s old garden stuff. Weeds, thorns, and death are done away with. Jesus Christ, the shoot and rod of Jesse, grows. He lives.
Jesus is the life of all the living. He is the bread of life that never perishes. Marian knew Jesus as her life. She knew he was the food that would give her eternal life. She faithfully received him where he was to be found, in his holy Word and precious Sacraments. She handed over these precious gifts to you her children, Nola, David, John, Jennifer, James, her grandchildren, her friends and even the children of our Sunday school.
Now she rests with the Lord from her garden labors. She rests confident that on the last day, a new creation will sprout forth. No more weeds. No more hard work. Joy and peace and food abundantly forever. All with Jesus. The bread of life himself. Amen.
+ SOLI DEO GLORIA +