Ryan Michael Fecho
(October 20, 1982 - December 1, 2017)
1 THESSALONIANS 4:13-18
YOU HAVE A HOPE THAT ENDURES THROUGH ALL THINGS.
In the name + of Jesus.
When St. Paul wrote to the Christian Church in Thessalonica, he wrote to a people who were grieving the loss of their loved ones. Actually, it was worse than that. The Thessalonian Christians had been led to believe that those who died in the faith and were buried had been lost forever. It seems that some had concluded that only those who are still alive when Jesus comes to judge the living and the dead will dwell with the Lord with their bodies. St. Paul wrote to alleviate their fears and to encourage them in the Christian's hope: “We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” (Nicene Creed)
We are gathered today as people who grieve the loss of a loved one, Ryan Fecho. Perhaps the confusion and grief that hits us today more than anything else is God's timing in Ryan's death. Ryan was only 35 years old. He was such a loving husband and a devoted father. He was a faithful worker both for Bosch and here at Good Shepherd. And, quite frankly, Ryan was fun to be around. It leaves us wondering why this happened, and why it happened now. Even when we try to come up with reasons, they are not really satisfactory.
This is what the Lord says, “The righteous man perishes, and no one lays it to heart; devout men are taken away, while no one understands. For the righteous man is taken away from calamity; he enters into peace...” (Isaiah 57:1-2) To be sure, Ryan is now forever spared from the toils and troubles of this world. Satan cannot harm him at all. And yet, Ryan would have been pleased to stay here and continue to be a loving husband, devoted father, and faithful worker for decades to come. And you would have been pleased to enjoy the benefits of that, too. God had other plans; and we don't get it.
The question that may never get answered about Ryan's death has to do with the “when” of his death. Why now? God has chosen not to reveal that to us. But the “why” of death is made plain from the Bible. “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) We all come into this world as sinners. And that is why we are all going to die. We may expect to live eight decades, give or take; but we have no guarantees. Neither did Ryan. Many die old; others die young. The death of some is expected; the death of others is a jarring surprise—as it was with Ryan's. We never know when death will come, but we always know why: “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23)
But you have a hope that endures through all things. What St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians is also true for you: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14)
It is true that Ryan was a sinner, but it is also true that Ryan was baptized into the name of Jesus. In baptism, Jesus took from Ryan all sin and guilt. In doing so, Jesus also took away from Ryan the wrath of God and the power of the grave. Jesus Christ suffered the torments not just of crucifixion, but especially of hell. It was a faulty heart which brought death to Ryan, but it was the pierced heart of Jesus which poured out blood that paid for his sins. Jesus endured what sinners deserve. The wages of sin have been taken care of by Jesus. Since Ryan was baptized into Jesus, he did not face God's wrath, or curse, or hell. In baptism, Jesus cleansed Ryan of sin, marked him as a child of God, and made him an heir of the heavenly kingdom. No heart attack changes the heart of God in that. That is why your hope endures through all things.
St. Paul encourages you: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13) Kendra, and the rest of the family, St. Paul does not say you will not grieve. When death strikes a loved one, you can't help but grieve. When the bond we have with our loved ones is ripped apart by death, it hurts. It leaves a scar. You grieve, but you do not lose hope. Ryan's life may have been cut short in this world, but life is never cut short in the kingdom of God. Ryan's soul has gone to be with Jesus. He lives with Jesus because he belongs to Jesus.
You have a hope that endures through all things, even the grave. Thanks to Jesus, it is not something that holds terror over us. We view it as the enemy because it takes our loved ones from us. But you have a Savior who overcomes that. When God came into the world to save, he became a man. That man was crucified, died, and was buried. But then he rose from his grave. It is not a memory that lives. It is a flesh and blood man, Jesus, who lives. He is now Lord over death and the grave.
Just as Jesus took from Ryan all that was bad at his baptism, so also at his baptism Jesus gave to Ryan all the benefits of his death and resurrection. St. Paul writes: Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Thessalonians 4:14) Jesus lives and reigns over death. For that reason, when Jesus comes again on the Last Day, the grave will have to give Ryan back. It will not just give back a memory. Jesus will raise up the man, Ryan Fecho so that, body and soul, as God created him to be, he will live. And he will live in glory with a body that will never be subject to death or weakness or sorrow again. Never again will he know a heart condition or a heart break. This is why we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. This is the hope that endures through all things, even into eternity.
If Ryan had died at 95 rather than 35, his hope was the same—that he would be forgiven of all his sin, that his soul would be delivered by the angels into Paradise, and that he would be raised from the grave to live forever. Ryan Fecho was baptized into that hope. He was confirmed in the Christian faith after years of studying about that hope. Every time he came to this altar to feast on the body and blood of the Risen Savior, he was strengthened in that hope. And he finally died in that hope. But this hope endures through all things. It is not negated by tears, or a heart attack, or even by death. Just as you cannot nullify Jesus' death and resurrection, so you cannot nullify this hope.
We may never understand the Lord's timing in Ryan's death, but we cling to this: The Lord is good and his mercy endures forever. Therefore, you have a hope that endures through all things—even this death. You and I have no answers for death. Jesus Christ does. He is the resurrection and the life. He holds the keys to death and the grave. More importantly, he holds us near and dear to him, even as he holds Ryan in heavenly peace. Jesus lives and reigns for our good, and he promises a joyful reunion of all who live and die in the Christian faith. Therefore encourage one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:18); for they are your enduring hope.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.