For those of you who don’t live in Warden, our church’s choir director and organist, Marion Laib, passed away last week, and today was her funeral.
Writing her funeral sermon was one of the more challenging tasks I’ve done in pastoral ministry; Jami reminded me that from here on out, it will only get tougher because I love these people so much.
I’m posting this sermon/meditation because some might have missed being able to attend… or some might want to read it… or some musicians might appreciate the merger of hymn and remembrance. At any rate, here’s Marion’s funeral meditation: Where The Roses Never Fade.
One of the greatest honors I have as a pastor is to remind people just how close Jesus is at times of crisis. As we move through this life, we experience heartaches and struggle, frustrations and pain; this is a part of the human condition. And in the midst of it all, God is present. We may not always see Him at work, focused as we often become on our own matters and concerns. Yet, God is right there, right beside us, as close as our own heartbeat, steadily calling for us to hear His whispered voice. This is the promise of faith – that we are never left alone; that we can always hear the call of God.
Many of us hear that call from the Lord through the means of music. It has been shown that music lights up our minds, causes us to be more alive, more aware of the nature of reality than when we ignore melody and harmony. Marion was one of these souls for whom music spoke in a powerful way; and she shared what she learned with others. She had a special fondness for the hymn “Where The Roses Never Fade”. Marion’s life reflected the values in this song; it’s no wonder it was so powerful to her.
Marion Laib merged her life and her faith. She had set her heart on receiving the promise of God, that she would be “going to a city Where the streets with gold are laid; Where the tree of life is blooming And the roses never fade.” She lived her life in such a way that her eventual destination shaped how she lived day to day. The music with which she filled her life also impacted the lives of many others; she played the organ and directed the choir in this congregation for many years. She poured music into the lives of children (and adults who sometimes acted like children) and they were made better for it.
Let us face an unpleasant truth: this world, and the things in it, wind down. Nothing on this physical realm lasts forever; we understand that there is a season to every activity under heaven. The Bible reminds us that there is a time to live, and a time to die; a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance. All we need do is look around and we can see the truth of this: the flowers that bloomed so beautifully last week are already fading, and yet farmers are out in their fields, planting and preparing for the harvest. Marion’s hymn reminds us that what we value so much in this life “blooms but for a season, and Soon their beauty is decayed; I am going to a city Where the roses never fade.”
What a stunning promise of faith: that we will leave behind the old, and inherit the new. We will leave behind the decay, and enter into the realm where Death itself is no more. We will be free: from the difficulties of sin, from the injustices that are often experienced, from the fear of the unknown. For those who have trusted God, as Marion had, will move from death to life, from woe to wonder. We understand now that “In this world we have our troubles, and Satan’s snares we must evade” as the hymn says. That requires a recognition that we aren’t guaranteed a perfect life down here; we all just do the best we can with what we experience. But as we lean on Jesus, and step into His wonderful embrace, “We’ll be free from all temptations Where the roses never fade.”
If Marion could speak to you right now, I’m sure she’d tell you how wonderful Heaven is. She might describe what it looks like to her; the Bible uses terms like “streets of gold” or “jeweled foundations” or “gates of pearl”. But the point of Heaven isn’t eternal fancy accommodations, or how amazing everything looks. The point of Heaven, indeed the point of all of existence… is Jesus. The reason we rejoice when one of our loved ones steps into eternity is because they get to finally see Jesus face to face. They receive the promise that they’ve hoped for all their life long. This is true for Marion: she no longer has faith; she no longer has doubts or concerns. The Bible says that she no longer peers through a dim glass, but instead sees the Lord face to face; now she knows, even as she is fully known.
And this promise is extended to all who will trust Christ for their salvation. The last line of the hymn reminds us that “Loved ones gone to be with Jesus, In their robes of white arrayed, Now are waiting for my coming Where the roses never fade.”
“1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses [like Marion, and Royal and Elsa, and Pastor Lindsay, and so many others], let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”