[Jesus said:] “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the Good Shepherd. I know My own and My own know Me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep… My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (John 10:11-15, 27–30).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Given what is going on in the world, the death of Elaine Eva Lou Rieck might be considered just another statistic. But those of you gathered here today know better. Elaine was much more than just a statistic. She was the faithful wife of Ray for 65 years. The loving mother of Rosalyn, Lynette, Gerald, and David. Grandmother. Great-grandmother. Neighbor. Friend.
Elaine was proud to be a pioneer—the first female bus driver in Edgerton way back in 1962. She loved dancing, sewing, crocheting, gardening, playing pinochle, and jigsaw puzzles. I knew that if I couldn’t find Elaine in her room, she was probably at one of the tables putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Elaine liked to talk about her family, farming, fishing and how much she loved this little church whenever I visited her over the last seven years.
But more important than all that, Elaine was a child of God, a beloved lamb of the Good Shepherd. Many of the most important days of her life happened right here at St. John’s. Elaine was baptized here into the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ on July 7, 1929. She publicly confessed her Christian faith in the Rite of Confirmation here on April 18, 1943. She was united in Holy Matrimony to Ray here on November 16, 1945.
And for many years, Elaine came here to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd through His Word and to receive His body and blood for the forgiveness of her sins and the strengthening of her faith. When she could no longer get herself here, her pastor brought the Church to her. So, it is fitting that we be here today, even as we mourn her death, to speak of Elaine’s faith and, more important, to hear of her Good Shepherd and His work of salvation even as we walk through the valley of the shadow of her death.
The body of Elaine lying inside this casket is precisely the reason Jesus was sent into the world. Now death was not a part of God’s good creation. But death entered the world through sin. When the first man and woman ate of the forbidden fruit, the curse of death corrupted all of creation. Man, who was made of the dust would die and return to the dust from which he was created. And the mortality rate for all humans since that time has been 100%. Death needs a cure; but where is one to be found?
Science cannot cure death. There is no technology, no miracle drugs, no vaccinations capable of preventing, stopping, or reversing death. There are no magic formulae, no mystical incantations, no enigmatic talismans, no alignment of stars that can cure death. There is no passionate human love nor lily-white personal sincerity nor Herculean individual effort that can cure death. Elaine held on valiantly to life here for 91 years, but she could not defeat death. You cannot defeat death. Neither can I.
Only One could cure death. Only One could make right that horrible first human death, righteous Abel, and every death in between, right down to this one before us today: the Good Shepherd, Jesus, who laid down His life to defeat death.
It is written, though little believed in the world, that God the Father said to the very first human, “In the day that you eat of [the fruit] you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). And it is written, and even less believed by the world, that God the Father’s promised cure for death came from “the Seed of the woman.”
And so it came to be in the passage of time, that the cure for death was born of the Virgin Mary. This Seed lived a life of perfect obedience and love, and then He willingly laid down His life on a cross, exchanging His righteousness for our sin, and rising to life again on the third day.
Jesus’ death and resurrection defeats death. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep to take it up again. That’s how death was defeated. That’s how Elaine gains eternal life. That’s how Elaine never perishes. That’s how Elaine cannot be snatched from the hand of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
He who has no faith in Jesus, the Good Shepherd, could look at this casket, this body, these family members with their tears and sorrows and ask, “Who is your Good Shepherd in whom you believe that you shall never perish?”
You answer simply, but boldly: Jesus. There is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved. The Father has put all things under Jesus’ feet. That includes death. Death is now a footstool to Jesus.
But then, why the reality of what we see here? This casket? This lifeless body? Sin. Sin still ravages the body. Sin still has its teeth in our flesh. But you must not put your eyes on your sin. Put them rather on Jesus. Indeed, hate your sins, detest your sin, curse your sin, but fix your eyes on “Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. How? By becoming sin for you. By taking on your punishment. By dying your death. A death that did not have dominion over Jesus. A death that could not hold Jesus in the grave. Three days after Jesus laid down His life, the Father vindicated the Son. He was raised from the dead.
St. Paul reminds us: “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death He died He died to sin, once for all, but the life He lives He lives to God” (Romans 6:9-10).
You and I must still live in the flesh for now. Elaine has put hers off. On Saturday, the Lord Jesus said to Elaine, “Today you will be with Me in paradise” (cf. Luke 23:43). Her soul is with all the saints, awaiting the resurrection of her body when it will be fashioned to be like the Lord Jesus’ glorious body (Philippians 3:21). Since Elaine believed in the forgiveness of her sin in this life, she now has new life, eternal life, Jesus’ life. Elaine has new life because of her Good Shepherd, and she shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the Great Shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to Whom be glory forever and ever. Amen” (Hebrews 13:20–21).
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.