Pastor Grant M. VanderVelden shared this message at the funeral for Norb Palmer on Saturday, February 19, 2022. The Scripture lessons were Psalm 23, Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, and Matthew 5:3-12.
Our lives arrange into a rolling litany of different seasons, rhythmic times for every purpose, surely appropriate for the moments at hand.
And so it was for Norb.
His children and grandchildren graciously shared with us their tender thoughts and treasured memories of those many times and seasons:
Times to plant seed in the fertile earth, and times to pluck up the bounty of the harvest.
Times to serve his country during war, and times to move on to other protective service in faithful stewardship of God’s Creation.
Times to laugh, and to joke, and to let a twinkling eye light up an entire room, warm up every soul on hand, and lift every sad, sagging spirit.
Times to hunt, and fish, and trap; times to roller-skate, and to square dance, and to embark on grand adventures across vast seas and to lands down under.
Times to hike high in desert mountains, times to walk far atop a Great Wall.
Closer to home, times to shell walnuts in the basement; times to pick up sticks in the yard; times to aim a potentially lethal blow gun at rascally rabbits somehow or other guilty of disturbing the beauty and tranquility of home, sweet home.
Times, probably by accident, to cut back some hostas with the lawnmower and crop dust some long-awaited, beloved hollyhocks with deadly herbicide.
And above all, by grace, times to love – unconditionally and totally, over 59 days of nightly courtship and 59 years of steadfast marriage. “No man ever told his wife ‘I love you’ more than Norb told me,” Nola shared with her family and me as we made funeral arrangements.
Even in his final days, hospitalized and weakened, the depth of a husband’s love for his wife still inspired a holy kiss on the warm, gentle hand of the bride whom he considered as wonderfully enchanting as the day they first met.
And now, sadly, comes a time to die, bringing us to our time of weeping and our season of mourning – perhaps, for some of you, the first time you’ve ever felt such searing pain and groaning agony.
And the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew shared earlier proclaim us “blessed,” for we will be comforted.
But there seems little consolation these days, as eyes well with bitter tears, and throats lump with grieving emotions; the raw, jagged edges of broken hearts still sharply and viciously stabbing deeply into the very fibers of our being.
Even though the writer of Psalm 23 fears nothing and finds comfort on a dark and lonely walk through the valley of the shadow of death, our own walk of faith – even with the Lord as our Shepherd – probably feels more like a long, hard slog up a slippery slope of grief and sadness.
But, my friends and neighbors, please remember this, and find strength and comfort that will carry you through the shadowy valleys of your todays and tomorrows:
In order for there to be a shadow, someone must turn on a light to create the shadow. For those of us whom the Lord has chosen as his own, that light is the love of God, the grace and peace of Christ, and the powerful presence of God’s Holy Spirit in Christ. And that strong light promises to wipe away every tear and make all things new once again.
No, earthly life without Norb in it certainly will not be the same.
But though it doesn’t seem even remotely possible in this moment, joy and laughter will one day return to once again be part of our varied times and seasons on earth. And, thanks be to God, in heaven, too!
For the empty tomb of Easter morning declares that death does not, cannot, and will not have the last word or final say. And the light of comfort shines brightly in the assurance that we are not saying farewell forever but rather goodbye for now. For we will, one day, be together again with Norb and all the saints, forever and ever.
These ancient words are ever true:
The Lord of sea and sky, snow and rain, wind and flame, vows to tend the poor and lame – the grieving, the poor in spirit, those hungering and thirsting for righteousness. The Lord’s saving hand sets a feast for all of them, all of us, providing the finest of satisfying bread, and forever holding God’s people close to heaven’s heart.
Glory be to Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Amen!