[Delivered almost 5 years ago]
Lola, Jessica, Vicki and Bo, family and friends of Charles Grinstead: according to the tradition of the Church Simeon was an old man when he first met and held the Christ child and announced that he was ready to die. But your husband, your father, our friend was not an old man. In fact, whenever I think of Charlie I always think of a man who never lost the joys of childhood. I can’t think of him without seeing the bouncy way he walked and the constant smile on his face and the ringing sound of his laughter. It’s not every man arrived at 53 who thinks that singing is still one of the greatest joys of the world, but Charlie sure did! He was just a big kid in so many ways and I think that’s just one reason that everyone who met him loved him so much.
But even though he wasn’t an old man like Simeon, he knew the joy of Simeon. Those of you who are not Lutheran may not know that every time we celebrate the Holy Sacrament, after we have received our Lord’s own body and blood into ourselves, we sing the words of Simeon. We say in effect: “Okay, Lord. I could just die now! I am at peace. You can take me home anytime you want. Because I’ve just welcomed into my body the Savior of the world.”
I had preached on that text a few years back and Charlie emailed me later that he never sang the Nunc Dimittis again without thinking: “Okay, Lord, I could just die now.” To understand Charlie, you had to understand that this was a man of Easter faith. This was a man who knew in his heart of hearts that Jesus Christ had not only answered for all of his sins and for the sins of the whole world when He died on Calvary’s cross, but that Jesus had torn a hole right through death itself and come out alive again and had promised His people that He would pull them through too – right out of death itself and into everlasting life.
Charlie knew that and celebrated that with all his being. When he sang on Easter day “Joy, joy, joy to the heart all in this good day’s dawning!” there wasn’t an ounce of him that wasn’t belting that joy out at the top of his lungs.
And Charlie knew that His Lord’s victory was not something of the past. It was not confined to long ago. It was a reality he lived in and drew comfort from every day. And he wanted to know that you, his children, knew that. Do remember a few years ago that he gave each of you a summary of what God had done for you in your Baptism? How when you were baptized the heavens were opened above you head and God the Holy Spirit came to you and God the Father in heaven beamed his smile on you and said: “You are my Child and I love you and I am so pleased with you!” He gave you that because that’s the confidence he lived in every day. He praised God for His baptism, for the forgiveness of sins – and Charlie would have been the first to tell you how much he needed that forgiveness – and for the promise of a heavenly home.
I think it is a special grace given to some of God’s saints that they never worry much about death. Like Simeon, they welcome it, because they believe so strongly that Jesus has changed it forever, by ripping that hole right through the middle of it. Made death itself to be the door to eternal life. Because as Jesus went through death and came out alive again, so all who have been baptized into him and who hold to Him in faith will pass through to life everlasting. Charlie was like that – he didn’t worry about death.
Saints and angels around the throne singing the praise of the Lamb. Charlie knew that already on earth He got to go to heaven every time he joined in their endless “Holy, holy, holy.” And you must know this too. For when you come to the Holy Supper and Jesus plants into You the very body and blood that answered for the sins of all and that rose in victory over the grave, never to die again, Jesus is planting into you His promise: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day.”
One of the last emails Charlie sent me was about the last day. He just couldn’t fathom what more joys could there be when God has already given you everything in heaven. Lola, you set him straight. Don’t go arguing with God. If He gives you everything and then promises more, you can only say: “Thank you, Lord.” And that’s what Charlie’s life really was: a huge “Thank you, Lord!”
And a desire burned in his heart that no one he had ever known or loved should miss out on such great joy. “Promise me you’ll see me there” was how he put it. So to each of you today, make Charlie happy by looking away from your sin and even from death itself and looking steadfastly to the Savior who has answered for all your sin and who has defeated all your death. If you’ve not been baptized, don’t put off the joy. And if you’ve wandered away from your Baptism, like the prodigal Son, come home for your heavenly Father is waiting to welcome you.
And then you’ll know the joy that Charlie Grinstead knows even now, same as old Simeon and all those who have died in faith in Jesus Christ, and therefore who live forevermore: the joy of singing to the Lord of the universe Hallelujahs without end.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.