Graveside Committal of Gilbert Anker Eliason (June 11, 2009)
“If You're Going to Save Me, You Better Do It Now” (2 Cor. 6:1-2)
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, and God's peace and comfort especially to you family members gathered here today.
I met Gil when I first became pastor of Messiah here in Marysville back in 2000. I will always remember his smile and his little chuckle when he said something funny. I will always remember how proud he was of his custom camper building skills. I will remember the way he was so dedicated to taking care of Jean. I will also remember that he was such a faithful usher, cheerfully passing out bulletins, and reverently helping out in the worship service, until it was just too hard for him. I was sad to see him move to Bremerton, but knew that he was going to be in good hands over there. Besides that, as I always tell folks, whether they are moving to another location … could be Bremerton, could be heaven … for Christians, it's never “Goodbye.” It's always “See you later.” Those who have been baptized into the name of the Triune God and who trust in Christ for forgiveness and salvation have the gift of eternal life. On the last day, their souls will be reunited with their bodies, and they will be raised to life again, just as Jesus rose again on Easter morning. And then that great, eternal family reunion begins.
Something Gil said in his last days here on earth helped me choose the Bible verse for this meditation. It's from St. Paul's second letter to the Corinthians, chapter 6:1-2 – “We appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says, 'In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.' Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
I was told that just before his last visit to the hospital, Gil said to Betty, “If you're going to save me, you better do it now!” Gil knew that he was living on borrowed time. His days, even his moments on earth were numbered. It's as if he knew that he was on his way out. Now was the time for something to be done. There's not much time left.
That's true for all of us. You know, even if we are the healthiest people in the world, we're all living on borrowed time. Our days on earth are numbered. Only the Lord knows how much time each of us has left, young and old. We live in a broken world, a world broken by sin, which is disobedience to God's holy will, missing the mark of God's holiness and perfection. And sin has brought death into the world.
Gil lived in this sin-broken world, and so ultimately his body was ravaged by the effects of disease and death. And Gil knew he, too, was a sinner. He came often to church to confess his sins together with the rest of us on Sunday morning. He didn't quite use those same words which he said to Betty, but it was as if he was saying, “If you're going to save me, you better do it now.”
The thing is, Gil also knew that his dear Lord and Savior Jesus had already saved him when he died on the cross for Gil's sins, for my sins, for your sins. Gil knew that he was baptized into the name of the Triune God, the same Holy Trinity we talked about this past Sunday on the Feast of the Holy Trinity, the day which Gil died. And when Gil was baptized, all that Jesus accomplished at the cross was applied to him personally. The Holy Spirit working through God's Word created faith in Gil's heart to trust in Christ for his salvation. His sins were washed away.
Gil also knew that he needed to hear that message over and over again. And so he listened to God's Word read and preached. He heard his pastors announce “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” He came to the Lord's Supper to eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus, the very body and blood by which Jesus earned salvation for all of us and by which he shares his life with us.
“If you're going to save me, you better do it now.” Jesus had already saved Gil 2,000 years ago on a cross outside the city gates of Jerusalem. But that salvation was given to him personally … “now” … through God's Word, through Holy Baptism, through Absolution, and through Holy Communion. Gil did not receive God's grace in vain. God's undeserved love was poured out upon him during his life, and he now is enjoying eternal life in heaven, without pain, without suffering, without sorrow.
In the meantime, you and I remain behind, and we are the ones who grieve. But St. Paul also tells us elsewhere that we grieve, but not as those who have no hope. (1 Thess 4:13) The resurrection to eternal life awaits us. This is not a hope in the sense of, “Gee, I hope this is true.” No, this is a sure and certain hope. You can count on it. God has promised it. And God keeps all his precious promises. And Gil's body, too, will rise again from these ashes that are being laid to rest today. Death does not have the last word. Jesus has the last word. And his last word was punctuated by an empty tomb.
“Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” Jesus saved all of us from sin and death 2,000 years ago on the cross. But his favor and salvation is for us now. Receive that salvation, just as Gil did, by trusting in Christ's finished work at the cross and the empty tomb … today … now.