Thursday, May 28, 2009

Bonnie Panico

Sermon on John 11:20-27
For Our Savior Lutheran Church of Norwood Park, Chicago, IL
May 28, 2009 (Funeral of Bonnie Panico)

I’ve been serving as Vacancy Pastor for this congregation for only a little more than six months. It’s been a bit awkward, since I live more than an hour away from here and so I can only be here one or two days a week, but I can say that already this congregation feels to my wife and I that it’s our church home. A large part of that is due to Bonnie Panico. She and her husband, Vince, when they were able to be present for the Divine Service, would always sit near Tina and keep her company despite the fact that her husband was up here working while she was sitting in the pew. Bonnie always had kind words for me regarding my sermons at the end of the service. Even though I’m not currently the called, permanent full-time pastor of this congregation, Bonnie would identify me to the nurses when I visited her in the hospital as “my pastor.” Of course, we know her health wasn’t all that great recently; several weeks before her final hospitalization she spent three weeks in the hospital. She was in a coma for about a week before waking up a few days before her death. But during those last couple of days of her life she seemed to be doing better. And so it came as a shock to Tina and I when we arrived here this past Sunday to be told that Bonnie had passed away early that morning. It was also a huge shock to her husband, Vince, as well as to her church family here at Our Savior.

As we consider the last few weeks of Bonnie’s life, it may be tempting to ask a question similar to the one Martha asks Jesus in this Gospel lesson. “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” Lord, if only things had turned out differently, it would have been better for everyone. If only Bonnie had continued to recover, we wouldn’t be here today. Bonnie would still be able to keep Tina company during the Divine Service and help me realize that my work here is appreciated by God’s people. But our Lord in His wisdom allowed events to proceed in a manner different than what we might have wished. As Jesus points out to Martha in response to her question of Him, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Jesus is the one who won the victory over death and the grave for us. His entire purpose in being born and living a perfect, sinless life as a man on this earth was to win eternal life for us, so that we, believing in Him, may live forever with Him, free from any pains or trials or sorrows. That’s not just what He did, that’s who He is. He is the resurrection and the life. This Jesus, the one who is the Resurrection and the Life, is the One who made Bonnie His own many years ago through Holy Baptism. Already back then she was given the Resurrection in the person of Jesus Christ and the new life brought to her heart. That new, eternal life was strengthened in her through Word and Sacrament all through the years in between, including especially these few weeks as her pastors have visited her in the hospital to give her this Christ, this Resurrection and Life, again and again to strengthen her faith in spite of the weakness of her body.

Jesus says, “He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies.” As we know, Bonnie has died. But she died a believer. Therefore, as Jesus says here, she lives! Yes, her soul has been temporarily separated from her body. Medically, and in every other way we can tell with our five senses, she is dead. But to God, she lives! Her soul is with God even as we speak; she is in the presence right now of this Jesus who calls Himself the Resurrection and the Life, along with many others of her friends and church family who died in Christ before her. And with Christ there is no death, otherwise He would not be the Life. Even though Bonnie has died, she yet lives, in the presence of the Lord of Life Himself. And on the last day we will be able to see her, risen again and free from all the pains and afflictions which tormented her in this life. And at that point, we who have trusted in Christ will also be free from all the diseases and sorrows of this life as well. He who is the resurrection and the life will reunite us with all of our loved ones who have died in the faith, and all of us who have this trust in God created and strengthened by the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments for the forgiveness of sins will live forever in perfect fellowship with our Creator and Redeemer.

But what about the meantime? We do mourn her death. And that’s only natural, since death wasn’t part of God’s design but only entered the world through the sin of Adam and Eve. But even though it’s natural to mourn it’s not easy. Even though God works through even our grief to strengthen our faith in Him, as Solomon notes in our Old Testament lesson, it’s hard. Will God give us the strength we need to face the absence and loss that her death has brought to our lives? Well, since Christ is still with you through His Word and His body and blood, and Bonnie is with Christ, Bonnie also is still with you, since you and he and all believers are united with one another by being members of the one body of Jesus Christ, provided you are participating in His body and blood and hearing His word regularly in God’s House. The Jesus whose body we eat and blood we drink in the Divine Service is the Resurrection and the Life. Nothing will be able to separate you from Him who comes to you in His Word and His body and blood. And He will at last reunite us physically with Himself and with all who have died in the faith when He comes again in glory. After all, how can He not? We are in Him by virtue of the faith given us in Holy Baptism and sustained through the Word and Holy Supper, and He is the resurrection and the life. Amen.

✠ Soli Deo Gloria ✠

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