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The Rev’d. Dr. Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS Psalm 23
St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church Revelation 21:1-7
Wilmington, North Carolina John 11:21-27
August 18, 2023


Psalm 23 (KJV) The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be world without end. Amen.

Revelation 21:1-7 (ESV) Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. 7 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.

John 11:21-27 (ESV) “21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”


Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

We Christians believe that every life, born and unborn, is more precious, lovable, and valuable than God’s own life. That is why the cross, and particularly the crucifix, is the prominent symbol of our faith. When a person receives Christian Baptism, he or she is joined to the saving death and glorious resurrection of God’s beloved Son Jesus. Literally, the newly baptized person is marked with anointing oil in the shape of the cross to indicate this one is now a child of God, one for whom Jesus died. At the Christian funeral, the body or the ashes are placed next to the baptismal font to signify the end of the Christian journey through this life. The casket, the urn, or box of ashes is covered with a white cloth to indicate that this person’s sins have been covered by the righteousness of Christ, by His perfectly obedient, sinless life offered for us to His Father.
So, the Christian funeral is a worship service of thanks and praise to God for the gift of a dear one’s life. On this day, we thank and praise God for the life of Nathan Craig Holway, Jr. We remember the uniqueness of Nate’s life, and we give voice to our hope in Jesus Christ. This life is not all there is. Death is a comma, not a period. We believe Nate is alive with God and that, at the last, he will be raised bodily to enjoy God’s new creation restored without sin, death, or evil.

Having buried hundreds of people including most of my closest relatives, I know the importance of this day is, not only to recognize the reality of Nate’s death, but especially to remember and to share with Linda, Nate’s family, and friends how Nate touched your life. I urge you to put into writing what Nate has done for you, how he has helped you, and how much you appreciate Nate. If you have been through a close personal loss, you know that the attention can be overwhelming at first but then soon you are alone and trying to figure out how to go on from here. Later, it helps to read and reread what was said or written. Please take the time to share something today.

We are the sum of all our relationships. In other words, all the various relationships in our lives form a very unique picture. Siblings often have very different pictures of their parents. The oldest child has a much different relationship with parents than a middle or youngest child and so on. A first spouse often knows a very different person than a second. Adult children often struggle with the divorce and remarriage of a parent. Children born to a second marriage have a very different picture of a parent than those from a first. And so on. Likewise, the friendships of one’s childhood are very different than those of middle or later years. Where and when we met someone forms very different memories. We all can grow through pain and loss. At least, we should be shaped by how we respond to and grow through our failures more than successes. All of which is to say that those gathered together form a very detailed picture of Nate’s life. Only the childish or naïve will try to freeze people in time or label them only by the bad or the good.

Like all of us, Nate was a sinner. That is the truth about each of us, and it does not dishonor Nate’s memory to say it. Rather, our brokenness and how we grow through it is often the very thing that makes our lives richer and more beautiful. Think of the flaws, the scars, the imperfections that give value to various works of art and even treasured possessions. Families and even cultures often assign labels like “black sheep,” “wild child,” or “saint” or “hero” as if people were all bad or all good. Who tells the story gives a very different picture of a person’s life. Often, the storyteller is saying more about her- or himself than about another’s life. An ex often tells a very different story than a parent. Only God know the whole story about each of us.

Nate did a lot of living in his 68 years. His father’s military service took the family to the Philippines during the Vietnam War. Nate was an Eagle Scout and mentored other scouts along the way. He climbed the 12,000-foot peak of Mount Fuji in Japan two different times. He graduated from Massachusetts Maritime Academy with an engineering degree. Nate served 27 years in the Navy reserves and rose to the rank of Commander. For more than twenty years, Nate was a valued nuclear engineer at the Duke Energy plant in Brunswick County. All of which reads like a resume, a list of accomplishments and awards. These are the things Nate did, but they do not begin to say who he is and who he has been to those gathered here.

Linda can talk about the man she met 32 years ago in an oldies bar in Springfield, Mass, and all that the years together have meant to her. His sister and nieces can talk about the family man who was protective of sisters and how he was there for his younger sister when she died. Coworkers can talk about Nate’s competency and ability to solve complex problems working with a nuclear reactor. Reservists can talk about Nate’s administrative skills especially in handling government paperwork. Many can talk about Nate as a humorous and imaginative storyteller, as an honest and intelligent man. His shepherd, Gertie, knew Nate as her loving Papa, and she will mourn him the rest of her days. Our dogs are often more loving than people.

Two paragraphs in a funeral sermon cannot do justice to or fully capture the man that Nate was to those gathered here or to those unable to be here. My hope is again to encourage you to give thanks for Nate’s life and to put into writing your part of the complex portrait of Nathan Craig Holway, Jr. If you have unresolved issues with Nate or old wounds that have not been cleaned out, then don’t share those with anyone but God and with a pastor or priest. If you don’t know how to begin, ask. You can phone me or email me. I will be glad to help the healing to begin.

I worry about the people who say they don’t want a funeral. First of all, funerals are for the living and not for the dead, so it’s an incredibly selfish thing to insist that their loved ones not have a funeral. If someone says that to you, don’t argue with them. But afterwards, go ahead and have a funeral anyway. It doesn’t have to be big or formal. Sometimes, we have a little private service here after church, or in a family living room, or at a burial site. We all need to mourn. It’s part of life, and people who deny death or try to protect children from death are not helpful at all. Most of my own family’s funerals have been special times… except when someone acted poorly.

Nathan Craig Holway, Jr., was a sinner, yes, but he was also a child of God, marked with the cross of Christ as one for whom Christ Jesus died. Nate was not perfect, but he is forgiven. Nate was flawed here, but everything broken in Nate is now no more. He is alive with God where sin, death, and evil are no more. Nate will be raised bodily from the dead and will be reunited in a whole new creation with all the baptized whom Christ has purchased with His Precious Blood.

Faith comes by hearing. The Word of God today declares that you and I can trust the Lord Jesus with our living and our dying. Do not be afraid to entrust Nate and yourself to the grace and mercy of our heavenly Father. The Spirit of the Living God is saying to the unbaptized, “Come to the water and receive a new life that goes on forever.” The nail-scarred hands of the Crucified and Risen Jesus are reaching out to enfold you in His loving embrace today, tomorrow, forever!

Navy families know the phrase, “Fair winds and following seas.” It is a way to wish a safe journey, to mark a retirement, and to say goodbye. “Fair winds and following seas” evoke billowing sails and gentle waves at the back of a ship making her way to the journey’s end. Nate has made it to home port safely. He’s found an eternally safe harbor in Jesus Christ. So, let that phrase be Nate’s last words to you in this life: “Fair winds and following seas.”

In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.