Ella Mary Wagman Funeral
92 years 9 months 22 days
Pixley Funeral Home, Rochester, MI
Text: John 11:25
Jesus meant it when He said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Now that may sound like anything from a silly to an obvious statement, “Jesus meant it.” But at a time like this we look for a certain amount of understanding as well as faith. Did Jesus mean only that He is a heavenly cheerleader bringing the hope of consolation, an illusive sense of peace and even joy to our otherwise dreary lives? Or did He mean to predict His own physical resurrection from the dead and promise that we too would be raised at some indefinite future date? When a loved one dies it isn’t right. Death is not part of God’s will or plan. There’s nothing good about the last enemy. Then we begin to either question or to take more seriously what we mouth with little emotion every Sunday, “I believe in the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.” To all of our questions, hopes or doubts we say today, Jesus really meant it when He said, “I am the resurrection.”
John chapters 10 and 11 mark the main division between the two parts of John’s Gospel. Jesus’ more public ministry of preaching, teaching and healing has concluded as He returns to where it all started, where John had been baptizing (10:40). Now in chapter 11 the plot to get rid of Jesus increases as He approaches His last days.
Jesus meant to stay quietly in the Transjordan for a longer time until He heard that His friend Lazarus became ill and died. When He decided to go to Lazarus, doubting disciple Thomas became despondent disciple Thomas resigning himself to say, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (11:16).
We’re a little like Thomas today. Last Thursday our dear mother, grandmother and friend Ella died. And so here we are gathered for her funeral. Thomas expected Jesus’ enemies to immediately arrest Him, and them along with their Lord. We expect today to grieve, to mourn, to pray, to hear some words of maybe vague comfort, to console one another, to say goodbye. But there’s more than that.
Thomas’ fears didn’t appear (right away). Rather he witnessed the final sign or miracle that would convince the Jewish leaders to make plans to put Jesus to death (11:53), namely, the raising of Lazarus from the dead. And today we hear the same words he heard along with Martha and Mary the two sisters of Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Jesus meant it when He said that and He really means it to this day. What does this mean?
Mary and Martha had questions about Jesus with respect to their brother. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Surely she didn’t mean that his death was somehow Jesus’ fault! Or did she? Part of our struggle with the death of a loved one is to question even argue with God. At least admitting that God had something to do with those dates that marked Ella’s life, September 1921 and June 2014, we still find ourselves asking “why?” Why then and why now?
Jesus directed Martha to see, to believe and understand that the real question has nothing directly to do with Lazarus, with Ella, but everything to do with Jesus. As His final “I AM” statement Jesus directs us, draws us to Himself. The resurrection and the life is not only a condition or a promised event in a vague future but is a Person. “I am the resurrection.” And that makes all the difference. For where He is there is life.
These words spoke of Martha and Ella and you and me when He then says, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” Yes, He points us to the “joyful expectation of eternal life with those” we love. But then He turns the words around and says, “and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Death has become something else for the Christian. It has become but a sleep, a rest, a rest from the grip of sin. Here He gives us the certain hope of faith that, because we have been redeemed, restored, forgiven, we will most certainly be raised at the last day as Job said of old, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another” (Job 19:25-27). The doctrine of the resurrection of all flesh has been revealed and believed since the beginning. We sing similar words in the hymn, “And then from death awaken me That these mine eyes with joy may see O Son of God Thy glorious face, my Savior and my Fount of Grace.”
Ella along with us lived in this faith. Oh, not perfectly, but what does that mean? But objectively, truly and really. For faith is not of our own effort or creation. It is that beating heart that hears and hangs on every word of God, that word that directs us to Jesus Christ who richly and daily cleanses us of all sin, who calls us His own sheep and Himself our true Shepherd. Jesus asked Martha, “Do you believe this?” And what did Martha say she believed? Not “what” but “who.” “Yes, Lord; I believe that YOU are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” And as a result of that faith you are saved.
It is good to remember the good times, the fun times, yes, even times of maybe a little sarcastic humor. Did I say “A little”? More difficult may be missing that familiar presence, being able to pick up the phone and talk to mom, to grandma. But now you have been here. Now you have been reminded that Jesus really meant it when He said, “I am the resurrection.” “This is the will of my Father, 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” (6:40).