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Only Thee: A Funeral Sermon for Carl Schalk. February 1, 2021

February 1, 2021

This is the sermon I preached for the funeral of Carl Schalk, February 1, 2021, at Grace Lutheran Church, River Forest, IL. The preaching texts were John 20:11-18, Isaiah 25:6-9, and Revelation 5:11-14. We look forward to the time when we can have a public memorial service for Carl and sing together the church’s song. Soli Deo Gloria!

Jan, Becky, Tim; family and friends; sisters and brothers in Christ, grace be unto you and peace this day in the name of God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

  1. Several months ago, Carl and I were talking on the phone, as we did periodically during the pandemic. He was thankful for how Grace was gathering for worship via livestream even though we couldn’t physically gather together. As one who knew and loved the gospel so well, hearing the Word in preaching and music was vitally important to Carl. He commented that he appreciated the clear focus on the gospel during the pandemic, and thanked me for my sermons. High praise indeed, for which I was, and am, grateful. He went on to muse, in the wonderful way that only Carl could: Perhaps this quality of preaching was because, without other people present in the sanctuary, I was less prone to – and I quote – “shenanigans.” I treasure the remark, for it was emblematic of Carl. He was always willing to share advice, but he was always kind, speaking with wry wit and a warm smile you could hear over the phone. More to the point, Carl simply preferred the gospel straight up. Carl had a keen awareness of his need, of this world’s need, for the good news of Jesus Christ. He was equally aware of how God has met that need for us in Jesus Christ, and how we are called to lives of service and praise.
  2. Our need for the gospel is evident today. Every death brings us back to the hill of Calvary and into the still-dark morning of the Sunday that followed. Those who us gather here this morning, along with so many who aren’t here, have ample cause for grief. As father and grandfather, composer and conductor, teacher, friend, travel companion, and fellow child of God, Carl’s faithful life has marked our lives. He was dear to us, to me, to you. But now death has come for him, as it came for Noël, as it has come for so many. Death brings us back to Good Friday, back to the still-dark garden. Wonder of wonders, it is just here that Jesus meets us. Blinded by grief, Jesus calls us each by our name.
  3. Nineteen years ago, here at Grace, Carl preached a homily for Good Friday, ending with these words: “What we know for certain is that amid the grief and sorrow of life, we remember how it all turned out some 2,000 years ago, how sorrow and sadness was turned to joy, how death was conquered on a cross. What we know for certain is that in spite of whatever the world may throw our way, in spite of the hopelessness and despair which can so easily beset us, we stand firm in the sure knowledge of the hope of the resurrection of the dead, and that we can indeed, with Christians everywhere, call this Friday ‘Good.’” Carl’s words of proclamation that day are for us on this day. Every death brings us back to Good Friday, the moment when God acted decisively for our sake and salvation, turning defeat and death on a cross into the full manifestation of the glory of God. Look upon Christ and live! We have been united with Christ in his death.
  4. And then: Easter. Mary Magdalene, lost in sorrow, stands before the empty tomb. She does not yet comprehend what has happened. Seeing Jesus, she mistakes him for the gardener! Until he speaks: “Mary.” In that moment, everything changes. In the resurrection the cosmos has been remade, death has been undone, resurrection breaks forth. Mary, hurrying back to the other disciples, utters the Easter proclamation: “I have seen the Lord!” These words, pure praise and powerful proclamation, are the prototype for the church’s witness that would follow, that echoes still throughout the ages.
  5. Carl has left an indelible mark upon the witness of the church, upon our shared praise and proclamation. What made this possible, beyond his remarkable giftedness, was his understanding that his work was not about him. His music was not his own. He was working to give shape in his own time to the church’s timeless song. The song that emerged from the tomb on that Easter morning, the song that graced the lips of Mary and the apostles as they proclaimed the risen Lord, is the same song that echoes around the throne of God as saints and angels sing praise to Christ the Lamb: “Blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever.” Amen! Carl’s foundational insight was that our song, in our time and place, is not our own. It is a means of joining the song that sings throughout eternity, the song of the Church Triumphant and the heavenly host. Or, in his own words, “It is not that we at St. John’s by the Gas Station are singing God’s praises and how nice that the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven join with us; rather, it is that we at St. John’s by the Gas Station are privileged, in our time, to join with those angels and archangels in the church’s song.” As at St. John’s by the Gas Station, so at Grace Church. Carl has helped us sing the church’s song, that we may better give thanks and praise to God, and also to help us remember. Remembering; this, too, is the purpose of the church’s song. In singing the good news, we are sustained by the good news that is found only in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. Christ is our song, and he is why we sing.
  6. After a lifetime of singing the church’s song, Carl was strengthened for the final journey on which we all must go. On the Friday before he died, another Friday we can call “good” thanks to the grace of God, I went to visit Carl. We shared Holy Communion, the meal by which we are connected to the feast of which Isaiah spoke, the Paschal meal of Christ. We read the Word and prayed together. Carl said to me, “I want to go and be with God.” What a gift to be able to face death with an unshakeable faith, to see in the grave the gateway to eternal life. Long ago, Jesus met Carl at the waters of the font, calling him by name, claiming him forever. Last Sunday, Jesus spoke again – “Carl” – and called him into eternity. And while we grieve his death and miss his presence, we also give thanks, for Carl now stands in the eternal presence of his Savior, his voice now caught up forever with angels and archangels. Amen!
  7. And what will we do? We will do what Carl would have us do, what the church has done throughout the centuries. We will sing. Clinging to faith in Christ, we will raise our voices in prayer and proclamation, trusting that the Lord of the song will weave our voices, however faltering they may be, into the endless song of the church. We will hold our memories of Carl and we will shed holy tears, while also anticipating the day when we will be re-membered with Carl and Noël and all the saints, the day when God will wipe away the tears from our faces. Isaiah’s promise is secure in Christ: God has swallowed up death forever in the victory of Jesus Christ. The One who was crucified is risen. We, too, shall arise. This is our song, sung forever in praise of Christ. Only Christ. No more dying only light. Only thee only thee. Thanks be to God. Amen and amen.

And now may the peace that passes all human understanding keep you hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, this day and forever. Amen.

From → Sermons

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