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A Funeral Sermon for Paul Bouman: “Hearts Burning with Thanks and Praise”

May 4, 2019

This sermon was preached at the funeral of Paul Bouman, held on May 4, 2019, at Grace Lutheran Church. Paul was the longtime Director of Music at Grace whose Christ-centered influence continues to shape our community of faith. The photo to the left was taken by his granddaughter, Lucy Bouman, on the celebration of his 100th birthday last August. The Gospel reading for the service was Luke 24:13-35. I count myself blessed to have known Paul these last four years; it was a privilege to preach at his funeral.

 

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Stephen, John, Helene, Mark, Janet; family and friends; sisters and brothers in Christ, grace be unto you and peace this morning in the name of God the Father and our Lord and our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

  1. The member fixed Paul Bouman with an icy stare and, in my imagination at least, a finger pointed in accusation: “No one at Grace Church will ever thank you for singing Bach.” It was Paul’s first year as the director of music at Grace Lutheran Church and School, 1953-54, and he was building on a foundation laid by Carl Halter and others. Clearly not everyone liked it. But as you and I know, this member’s prediction had all the prognostic power of a “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline. By the time of his retirement thirty years later, the music of Johann Sebastian Bach would be such a feature of our worship life, the Bach Cantata Vespers services cofounded with Carl Schalk such an institution, that its hard to remember a time before. In fact, when I was first learning about Grace, I made a few inquiries. The two things I heard about this church? First, Grace is an independent Lutheran congregation. And second, you sing Bach. A lot.
  2. So it turns out we do thank Paul for singing Bach, but that’s just the beginning. St. Paul wrote to the church at Philippi: “I thank my God every time I remember you…because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.” From the first day until now. Between the time that his parents brought baby Paul – if you can imagine that – to the font of God’s grace-filled waters until he died more than one hundred years later during these Great Fifty Days of Easter, so many things happened for which we give thanks and praise to God. And that’s just it, isn’t it? That everything Paul did, sinner though he knew himself to be, was done to the glory of God; a life lived as an Alleluia from head to foot. Whether in the choir loft or the classroom, at the organ bench or writing out scores, around the dining room table at which guests were always welcome or around the Lord’s Table at which all are always welcome, Paul’s life was a testament to both faithfulness and excellence in the service of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Today we say thank you to God for gifting us with Paul – son and brother, husband and father, grandfather and great-grandfather, colleague and friend, musician and teacher. We say thank you for Paul, Child of God.
  3. We all have our own memories of Paul, and I am so grateful that we have heard from Dean this morning, and from Paul’s own children. I first met Paul when he was a spry young man of 96 years. Not long after meeting Paul in his spot – and it was his – at the rear of the nave, my wife, Erika, and I went to visit Paul in his home. Not yet old enough to attend Grace School, our son, Torsten, came with us. But rather than seeing two-year-old Torsten as an afterthought to be endured, Paul made our son the center of attention. Paul swept him up into his arms, and bounced him up and down upon his lap in his wheelchair. Soon enough, Torsten was talking with Paul, giggling all the while. This is a story with a thousand variations, containing themes that ran as harmonic threads throughout Paul’s life: community and hospitality centered in Jesus Christ. Paul had no trouble grabbing a toddler in his arms, or countless youth and adults by the elbow, to gently draw them to Jesus. For this we thank Paul. Shortly before his father’s death, Steve wrote, “Most important he and mother taught us to love and trust in Jesus.” And that, of course, is what it’s all about. Paul’s life drew us into the cross, quite literally on Christmas Eve, and it is there that we find comfort, hope, and promise to face these moments.
  4. It is a hope we need, for even after a long life lived well, Paul’s death brings grief and sorrow. His dependable presence, warm smile, and ready wit will be missed. His absence will be keenly felt by family and friends, and by this entire fellowship of faith. We come to such moments in life, to moments of death, as people with a lot in common with the women who went to the tomb early on that Sunday morning long ago; as people not so different from Cleopas and his unnamed friend as they began the long, sad walk to Emmaus later that same day. The Jesus they had followed, the Jesus they had loved, had been put to death. There was nothing left for them to do but tend to the body. Nothing to do but walk home, hope extinguished. But God had had enough of death, and so God turns the crucifixion of the Son of God into the means of our salvation, forgiving our sins and putting the forces of evil to flight. God had had enough of death, and so raises up Jesus Christ as the first fruits of the resurrection so that through him we will be united together with all the saints, gathered around the throne of the Lamb. Blessed we will be, for we will dwell in the house of the Lord, the psalmist sings. The women get to the tomb and they don’t find Jesus. Instead, two heavenly messengers greet them: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” And their fear and sorrow give way to overwhelming joy. This living Jesus finds the travellers on the road, breaks open for them the scriptures, feeds them a meal of grace, and is made known to them in the breaking of the bread. For the women at the tomb, for the disciples on the road, Easter changes everything. And so it is for us.
  5. Paul was not in worship at Grace this Easter (doubtless the first time he missed Easter worship in 100 years), so a few days later, in the hospital, I read Luke’s Easter gospel to Paul. I held one of his hands, Janet the other, and we heard again that the crucified Christ is also the risen Lord. As we bring our grief to this place, we weep, and we mourn. And that is how it should be. Such tears are holy; such grief is real. But as we come together this morning, we hear again this Easter message, and we hear it today for Paul: Why do you look for the living among the dead? Paul is not here. Paul is with Christ, who has risen. Paul is with all the saints, with Vickie and all those who have died in Christ Jesus.
  6. After hearing the gospel and a prayer, Paul claimed the last word during my visit. His words were a prayer. A prayer of thanksgiving and praise. A prayer for Grace Church, which he served so well. A prayer for you, whom he loved so much. And now we commend him to his Savior, trusting that the Lord whom Paul served will hold him safe in the eternal song.
  7. As for us? What do we do on this day when we say goodbye to Paul and mourn his death? We do the only thing there is to do when death has been conquered and life has burst forth. We do the only thing left for us when our hearts burn with the promise and proclamation of the gospel. We do what Paul taught so many of us to do. We sing. We join our voices together as a powerful choir in this place, joining in and anticipating the heavenly chorus we shall one day join. It’s no accident that so much of our music in today’s service comes not only from Paul, although his music is present, but from his colleagues and friends. The music of the Church, after all, is the music of community, of fellowship. Earlier, we sang music by Paul’s friend, Richard Hillert, giving voice to words that come from the fifth chapter of Revelation: “Blessing, honor, glory, and might be to God and the Lamb forever.” So many of the words we sing in the liturgy come from Revelation. When John receives his vision, there’s singing all over the place, centered on the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. Kathleen Norris writes about Revelation, “it proclaims that when all is said and done, of the considerable noises humans are capable of, it is singing that will endure. A new song – if you can imagine – and light will be what remains.”
  8. One hundred years ago, God began a good work in Paul Bernhard Bouman, and we will thank our God every time we remember Paul. So today, at the empty tomb of Christ, let us do what Paul taught us to do. Let us sing the new song that is Jesus Christ himself. For death is dead and Jesus lives. In Jesus, Paul is alive. In Jesus, you are alive, and will one day take your part in the song of Jesus Christ that never shall end. Amen.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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