Suffering & Joy — Funeral Homily for Rodger Falkenberg, 75

By Fr. Victor Feltes

Rodger has experienced years of suffering and years of joy. After being born into a large, poor family and serving in the Vietnam War, he returned home and joyfully joined a new household. Facing life’s struggles, what a man could do is be bitter and glum, but Rodger loved making people laugh; sometimes with his Donald Duck voice or an intentional stumble. Even after enduring four, painful back surgeries, he still would roll down a hill to amuse his nieces and nephews.

Rodger knew that just because something is broken doesn’t mean that it’s without value. At what he dubbed his “Polish Shopping Center” (or what others call the city dump) Rodger would take things which others had despised. He would tinker with them as necessary, restoring them and prizing them as treasures to keep for himself or to share with others.

One thing I learned about Rodger and his beloved Donna is that they share a great, personal love for ice cream. Giving up ice cream for Lent was a great personal sacrifice in their house because they could eat an entire pail of it for a meal. In recent years, with his memory declining, they would often go to a particular restaurant. When the friendly staff would ask him, “Is it your birthday?” He would sincerely reply, “I think so,” and be treated to ice cream.

September 2nd of this year marked the 50th anniversary of Rodger and Donna’s wedding day here at St. Paul’s Church, and the family celebrated this occasion simply and sweetly together. Their daughters were getting Dad and Mom an ice cream cake and the employee was making a mess of squeezing-out the inscription on top, but Kelly or Lisa said, ‘It’s fine, really, just put sprinkles on it.‘ The party was a happy, intimate family gathering at home. And despite what had seemed to go wrong the cake still tasted very delicious in the end.

In today’s psalm the psalmist speaks of his suffering, praying for deliverance: “Relieve the troubles of my heart and bring me out of my distress. Put an end to my affliction and my suffering and take away all my sins. To you, O Lord, I lift my soul.” It’s not wrong to pray for relief, like Jesus himself did in the Garden of Gethsemane, but in Christ we see that our sufferings play a role in our glory. Jesus says, “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. …Whoever serves me must follow me… [to the Cross].

When Jesus suffered and died, “people saw and did not understand,” but in light of his resurrection Christians know death is not the end of the world. As St. Paul says, “We know that if our earthly dwelling, a tent, should be destroyed, we have a building from God, a dwelling not made with hands, eternal in heaven. [So] we are courageous, and we would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord. …We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil.”

For the faithful and righteous the sufferings this world sees as worthless are taken up by Jesus to rework our souls. Our Lord will claim us from this junk yard, he will fully restore us and prize us as treasures for himself and to share with others. The messed-up cake of this world will be salvaged. Once God’s family is gathered together again, we will simply and sweetly agree that everything turned-out fine in the end. Can this day of Rodger’s funeral be his birthday to new life? I think so. In heaven, our Lord “will wipe every tear from their eyes,” and convert the sufferings of his people to joy. “Behold,” he says, “I make all things new.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: