Friday, January 8, 2010

The memorial service for Clayton Teitgens

Clayton Tietgens
(January 4, 1923 – January 5, 2010)

January 8, 2010
St. Mark’s Lutheran Church

John 14.1-6

As most of you know, Clayton was a life-long Lutheran. He was active here at St. Mark’s all of his life. The Church was very important to Clayton and it defined and shaped his faith in God.

On Monday night, which was also Clayton’s 87th birthday, I was called up to MeritCare to pray at his side. And as I did, I realized that it is in moments like this that we all truly need the Church. The Church is more than just this building. It is all of us—all of us as Christians, gathering together both in our physical sense and spiritually. And that night, as I left and I sent out requests for prayer, I knew those prayers were being sent up for Clayton And there was a sense that we as Christians were gathering together and were there for him, for Margaret and for their family in spirit.

I too was baptized and raised a Lutheran and so I know how important things such as this service we are celebrating together is for those of who knew and loved Clayton. And Clayton, no doubt, would commend the words of this service to us as a way of consoling ourselves and making sense of the loss and sadness we are feeling this morning.

The fact is, we can take great hope in our liturgy—in the actual words of this service. Certainly, we liturgical Christians which include of course Lutherans (and in my case, Episcopalians), we place huge importance on liturgy. The words of this service say everything we can ever hope to say about dying and about rising to new life in Christ following death. For most preachers, anything we say in addition to the words of the liturgy simply pale in comparison. In fact, as we celebrate this service together, I invite you to pay special attention to the words we say together.

For example, the words we used at the beginning are incredible. Those words, “All who we baptized into Christ have put on Christ. In his baptism Clayton was clothed with Christ. In the day of Christ’s coming, he shall be clothed with glory.”

We often don’t think too much about those words, but they really do tell us everything we could hope to hear about death. In those words, we hear that Jesus, who has been working in Clayton’s life from the very beginning, from that he was baptized day, is still here with us today. And that today, Clayton is clothed with glory, as we all shall be as well.

Pay close attention also to the prayers we say at the commendation at the end of the service when we pray those beautiful words,

“Receive Clayton into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light.”

Those are not light words. Those are words that pack a punch and have deep meaning for anyone who mourns.

In a few moments, at the end of the Prayers of the People, we will pray in grateful thanksgiving that, in Jesus’ death, God has

destroyed the power of
death and that by his resurrection Jesus has opened the kingdom
of heaven to all believers.

We pray that God will “make us certain that
because Jesus lives we shall live also, and that neither
death nor life, nor things present nor things to come,
will be able to separate us from God’s love in Christ
Jesus our Lord

It’s words and images and sentiments such as these that make our liturgy so important and carry the weight it does. That’s why I always encourage people to often refer back the words of the funeral service found in the Worship book and read through these words when they’re feeling sad or lost Often people tell me that they have taken the funeral service home with them and replaced the name in the Worship with one of their own loved ones and that using these prayers have helped them in their own grief and sorrow. After all, they are full of consolation and hope. They truly do give us a glimpse of what awaits all of us.

The liturgy carries great meaning at other times as well. On Monday, when I gathered with the family at Clayton’s bedside to say some prayers, one of the prayers we prayed was this one. It comes from the Book of Common Prayer for the Anglican Church of New Zealand. The prayer we prayed Monday evening was this:

God of the present moment,
God who in Jesus stills the storm and soothes the frantic heart;
bring hope and courage to your servant, Clayton and to his loved ones.
Make them the equal of whatever lies ahead for them.
For your will is wholeness.
You are God and we trust you.

It was a perfect prayer for Clayton on Monday. God, who in that present moment, God, who in Jesus stills storms and soothes hearts that are frantic, was, at that moment, brining hope and courage to Clayton. Jesus was there at his bedside. In that moment, Jesus was there to make Clayton the equal of what lay ahead for him—life. Unending, glorious life.

That prayer could also be used for us as well today. As we head into these days without Clayton, we also ask our God, who is with us in this present moment, to still the storm of our mourning and to soothe whatever frantic hearts we may have in the wake of our loss. We ask God at this time to bring us hope and courage. And we truly do ask God in our liturgy to make us the equal of what lies ahead for us in these days to come.

We, also, in our liturgy, center everything on the reading of the scriptures. Our gospel reading for this service this afternoon is especially appropriate. In it, we find Jesus truly stilling the storm of mourning and loss. In it we find the distraught Martha crying out to Jesus and saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus, in a sense, tells her not to fear, but to have faith. He settles her fear with those immortal words, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live and everyone who lives and believe in me will never die.”

We have heard those words so often in our lives as Christians—often without giving them a second thought. But they really do tell us everything we could hope to hear about death.

In Jesus, we have Resurrection and Life. We have the defeat of death and we have life everlasting. With faith in Jesus, even though we will die in our bodies, we shall live. And in living, we will live forever with him.

This is the consolation we can take away from today. In that place—that wonderful glorious place, promised to us in scripture and in liturgy—Clayton is now fully and completely himself. He is whole.

In that Prayer from the New Zealand Prayer Book that I prayed with Clayton and his family on Monday, we prayed,

Your will, O God, is wholeness.

Wholeness means just that—completeness. Whatever imperfections we might have in this world, whatever in this life prevented us from being who we are truly meant to be, are made whole by God. And today, we can take great consolation in the fact that that petition has been answered for Clayton. God has made Clayton whole.

Of course that doesn’t make any of this any easier for those who are left behind. Whenever anyone we love dies, we are going to feel pain. That’s just a part of life. But like the illnesses that lead to death, our feelings of loss are only temporary as well. They too will pass away. This is what gets us through. This is where we find our strength—in our faith that promises us an end to our sorrows, to our loss. This is what scripture allows us to glimpse. This is what liturgy allows us to look forward to. Clayton knew this faith in his own life and we too can cling to it in a time like this.

When I heard of Clayton’s death on Tuesday morning, I prayed a prayer for him that gives me a lot of consolation.

“Into paradise may the angels lead you. At your coming may the martyrs receive you, and bring you into the holy city Jerusalem.”

On Tuesday morning, Clayton was received into that paradise. On Tuesday, angels led him to that holy city Jerusalem. On Tuesday, the martyrs received him and brought him home. One day we too will be received there as well. One day, we too will experience that wonderful paradise.

So this afternoon and in the days to come, let us all take consolation in that faith that Clayton is complete and whole at this very moment and for every moment to come from now on. Let us take consolation in that paradise to which he has been received by martyrs and angels. And let us be glad that one day we too will be there as well, clothed, like him, with a glory and a happiness and a joy that will never end.


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