Funeral sermon for Janice Rigby
A seat around the throne
Revelation 7:9 After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice: "Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb." 11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying: "Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!" 13 Then one of the elders asked me, "These in white robes-- who are they, and where did they come from?" 14 I answered, "Sir, you know." And he said, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore, "they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. 16 Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. 17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."
We all have our favorite seats – midfield for sporting events; the middle of the movie theater; front row for our grandchild’s graduation; aisle seats for our cousin’s wedding; near the stage for a concert; front seats for a roller coaster.
We even have our favorite seats in church.
No church has assigned seating, but our church is much like many other churches where the members have their favorite seats where they return to every Sunday. They feel comfortable and familiar with the people around them in those seats. They prefer the way they can see the pastor or hear the music or be closer to the bathrooms in those seats.
Janice had her favorite seat in church. It was on the lectern side of our church, the back pew. I knew that Janice had a hard time hearing, so it always seemed strange to me that she sat as far away from the pulpit and speaker as is possible in our church. The Rigby children explained the reasoning for that seating choice. Lyle had hurt his back as a firefighter. He liked the back pew because it is a little shorter length-wise than the other pews, so he could stretch out his legs into the aisle, if his back started to bother him. And if his back felt really bad, he could walk out of church without disturbing many of the worshipers.
But Lyle and Janice weren’t the only ones at Epiphany who liked that pew. We had another family who liked the back pew, also. So, one Sunday, the other family was sitting in the back pew. So, the next Sunday, Lyle and Janice would arrive a few minutes earlier to get the back pew. Then, the next Sunday, the other family would arrive a few minutes earlier to get the back pew.
The Rigby children came to learn that there was a price to pay for that seat in church. The price was arriving 30 minutes early for worship. Every Sunday.
Now, Janice is enjoying a different seat. It isn’t a seat in her church at Epiphany. Rather, it is a seat around the throne of the Lamb in heaven. St. John saw a great multitude around the throne of the Lamb in his vision of heaven: “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.”
It is a seat that came at a price. Janice didn’t have to pay for it. That’s because Jesus, the Lamb, already did. He paid for it with His holy precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death. He is the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for uninterested sheep. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world by dying for the very people who slaughtered Him. He is the One who rescues the straying sheep and saves the wayward lambs. He has slammed shut the gates of hell and has opened wide the gates of heaven so His saints who believe in Him might stream in.
It is not a seat that Lyle reserved for her, even though he arrived in heaven several years earlier. It is a seat that Jesus reserved for Janice at her baptism. Janice was baptized at Trinity Lutheran Church, on the north side of Racine, in 1924. She wasn’t baptized at Epiphany, because our church wasn’t built until 1927. But when Epiphany Lutheran Church was established in West Racine, Janice’s parents made Epiphany their home church. It was much closer to their dairy farm on Durand Ave. (Can you believe a dairy farm on Hwy. 11?)
Janice was confirmed in the Lutheran faith on June 5, 1938. She stood before the altar of the Lord once again on August 24, 1946, as she married Lyle. Their four children were all baptized in Epiphany’s font and confirmed before that same altar. They communed together, receiving the Lamb’s broken body and shed blood in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
Jesus reserved a place around His heavenly throne for Janice at her baptism. That is when He placed His name on her as she was baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He placed a white robe of His perfection on her. That same white robe that she is now wearing for eternity.
Jesus fed her His own body and blood to forgive her sins, strengthen her faith, and give her new life and salvation. It is the heavenly meal on earth that Janice treasured her entire life. One of the last times I visited Janice, I had a devotion and prayer with her. Then I put on my coat and said my goodbyes. But, she stopped me and asked, “Aren’t you going to give me communion?” I said, “You bet I am.” I took off my coat and we celebrated Holy Communion.
Above the altar at Epiphany, there is a large stained glass window of Jesus the Good Shepherd. He has a dozen sheep around His feet. He is also holding two lambs in His arms. When I had visited Janice, I read her the 23rd Psalm and mentioned the Good Shepherd window – an image she had seen for over eight decades. As her health was failing her, I told her, “Janice, you are one of those lambs. Nothing will be able to take you out of Jesus’ grasp. Not the devil. Not your sin. Not even death.” Then I read Romans 8:38-39 to her: “Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” She said to me, “I’m one of the lambs?” I said, “Yes, Janice. You are one of the lambs.” And she smiled.
The Bible pictures a paradox about Jesus. He is both the Lamb and the Shepherd. He is the Lamb seated on His throne. He is the Lamb who is both the perfect sacrifice and the leading Shepherd. We are imperfect saints who have stained our white robes with the filth and blackness of sins. We are wayward lambs and straying sheep who have killed our Good Shepherd. Still, Jesus is the Good Shepherd, who lays down His life for His sheep. He holds His lambs in His nail-pierced hands. He has His sheep around His nail-pierced feet. He gives the Gospel promise: “Neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” He gives the Gospel promise written on Epiphany’s altar for everyone to see: “Lo, I am with you alway.” He washes our robes in His baptismal waters and places His name on us. Then He promises, “I know my sheep and my sheep know me.”
Lyle and Janice were faithful worshipers at Epiphany for their entire lives. They helped clean the church. Lyle fixed things. They donated money in memory of Janice’s parents for the sign in front of Epiphany. Their children grew up involved in Epiphany’s ministry to children with the Lutheran Pioneers and ministry to the teenagers with the Loyalty League. But most of all, Lyle and Janice worshiped their Savior.
So, what are Lyle and Janice going to be doing now that they are in heaven? The same thing they were doing here on earth – worshiping. What else is there to do when your labors are ended. We rejoice in an eternal Sabbath rest. You might say that our Sunday morning worship is a kind of preview, a foretaste of the feast to come, when our work is over and all there will be is worship. We are giving the Lamb the worship He deserves – now and throughout eternity.
To those who have fallen away, Jesus extends a sincere and blood-bought invitation to return. To those who have hearts and lives that have been corrupted by sin, Jesus offers the forgiveness He alone can extend. Indeed, there is no person whose sins are so large, so heinous that they cannot be forgiven by the Redeemer.
That is what is so important about the saints John’s sees. The elder explains to John who these saints are: “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” There is a secret to purity of these saints. It is all about the Lamb. Their robes are washed in the Lamb’s blood. Only His blood will do. We, too, are counted among the saints around the Lamb’s throne. But it isn’t by our blood that we are there. It is not by our actions. Not the sweat of our labors or the tears of our contrition. There is no such thing as sinless saints … only forgiven ones.
Like the multitude already gathered around the throne, we are not saints because of what we have done, but because of what Christ has done for us. We are baptized, clothed with Christ, covered with His holiness, redeemed by His blood. Jesus has reversed what happened in
Adam and Eve feasted on the forbidden fruit. Now we can enjoy the marriage
feast of the Lamb.
This vision applies to us. We are saints, almost like they are. They are those who have already been gathered to the other side of the veil. They have already received their Sabbath rest. We are still gathered on this side of the veil of death. We are still laboring under the cross of Christ. Our saintliness remains hidden under the sin and struggles and persecutions of this world. It isn’t a new reality, it will just be a new place for us.
This vision applies to us. The vision of the white-robed crowd worshiping Christ the Lamb is a picture of you gathered with all of Jesus’ baptized believers. That’s your future in Jesus, and it’s already your present through faith in Jesus. Already you are gathered in worship with the angels, the archangels, and all the company of heaven. They are worshiping with you. You are worshiping with them. When you are in worship in your church, you are worshiping the Lamb on His throne. Lyle and Janice are there worshiping, too. They have a front row seat. Amen.
To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and thanks and honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.