Asleep, until the resurrection.

Greetings in the name of Jesus!

My mother, Domna Klassek, died last week after a long illness. She was 77 years. Her funeral service was held last Thursday at Pinnaroo Cemetery in Perth’s northern suburbs in Western Australia. For those who wish to hear the entire funeral service, which shares a little of her life in Greece and in Australia, as well as the teachings of Jesus on the hope of the resurrection, click here to download or listen to the entire funeral service in MP3 format.

Funeral, Pinnaroo Cemetery, WA,
11.00am 10th December, 2009

The entire transcript of the funeral service is as below:

It’s good that we can be here together – as family and as community, because although we grieve, we don’t mourn as those who have no hope.

We’re here because Domna Klassek – daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, was someone we loved, someone we prayed for, someone we cared for, and someone who genuinely touched our lives.

Today, we celebrate her life and say thanks “Mum”, thanks Domna. In doing so the ultimate thanks and glory goes to God – God Who gives life.

By way of background, my mother, Domna Pagomenou was born in the small Greek fishing village of Nea Mihaniona, near the bustling city of Thessaloniki in Greece.

She was one of seven children. Her father owned a vineyard and her brothers were fishermen. She often recalled playing hide and seek with her younger sister Soultana in the vineyard, carrying water in a gourd to her father working out in the field; she told the story of one of her older brothers ripping off the head of her dolly and throwing it up on the roof of their mudbrick cottage.

She often reflected on those carefree childhood days. In her mid-teens she experienced tragedy when her father was killed in a horse and cart accident. She often reflected on the warmth, love and fondness of her dad.

In going through some old family ‘black-and-white’ photos a couple weeks ago, I came across a photo I hadn’t seen before. It showed her among other Greek villagers working in the fields with mattocks, hair tied up in a scarf. You’ll notice that photo included in the Order of Service brochure, with a small arrow below, pointing to her life in another country, in another time.

In 1979 I went backpacking around parts of Europe, and I visited that small whitewashed, mud brick cottage in Neo Mihaniona where she grew up – and I wondered how a family of nine by today’s living standards would fit in it! I share this with you today because today we celebrate the life of Domna Klassek.

My mum began a correspondence with my father, and then in 1958 she migrated to Australia, to marry my Dad, an Austrian migrant. They were married just 20 minutes after meeting personally for the very first time! She said of my Dad, recalling when they first embraced, that he did not immediately kiss her on the lips: he kissed her on the forehead, then he kissed her on both cheeks, and only then he kissed her on the lips.

Those days had an echo of romance and family values, that unfortunately our society at large seems to be losing.

After 31 years in Australia, Mum had the opportunity to return to Greece, and as recently as a month ago she told me she was so glad to have done so while all her brothers and sisters were still alive. There’s one account from that visit that’s worth telling.

After being away so many years, her friends and relatives in Greece invited her to various homecoming dinners, and in the course of events, they cooked the proverbial “roast pig”.

They were a little dismayed, however, that Mum wouldn’t eat pig – even a small portion (because of her religious faith) – until one of the neighbours came up with an answer: “It must be that Domna doesn’t eat pig because Jesus cursed the pigs”. [I suppose we can see the logic as well as the humour in that conclusion]. Anyway, after that I’m told there was no more pork in the menues for the rest of her stay.

Our family lived in Cooee on Tasmania’s North-West Coast. My mother loved her large vegetable garden, and she somehow managed to grow lettuces in the middle of Tasmania’s cold winter! If you walked through her garden you would find: broad beans, beans, carrots, peas, spinach, strawberries, corn, onions, tomatoes, beets, potatoes – everything you can imagine. There were red current bushes, raspberry canes, peaches, apples, nectarines, lemons and pears. We had chooks, and Mum produced so many eggs, that she would sell some as well as give some away.

I remember one day when one of my Dad’s wharfie workmates came and asked for a dozen fertile eggs. My mum took a selection of eggs, and without explaining what she was doing, held each egg up in her cupped hand to the light in the window to see if it was fertile. [She showed me later that you could see a shadow of the little embryonic form to make sure it was fertile]. Well, he took the dozen of eggs, put them under his clucky chook and lo and behold, apparently all eggs successfully hatched. He duly went back to the waterfront and told his workmates that: “Ernie’s Missus blessed the eggs!”

I am John, the eldest her five children: then Christine, Eric, Helen and Anita. I recall our life growing up in Tasmania, nurtured in our family home that was rather typical of multicultural Australia stemming from post-war migration and the resulting blending of Australian and European values.

Often when we were seated at the dinner table at our family home in Cooee, Mum would bring to our attention that almost everything on the table was home grown and home produced. There was the butter, bread, milk, lamb chops [we had a few sheep in the back paddock], potatoes, peas, and salad ingredients, as were the strawberry and rhubarb dessert with home made whipped cream that followed.

And, after dinner, when Christine, Eric, Helen and I were conscripted to wash dishes, the soap too was the result of her handiwork. Even my wooly jumper was hand knitted by her, and dare I disclose, my brother and I wore “jockeys” that were home sewn from plain flour and wholemeal flour bags.

These are lovely things to remember and reflect on, the things that make up daily life – especially the nurture that a Mum brings to family life in a very beautiful way.

With five children and 16 grandchildren, and now three great grandsons, her legacy, her work, her dedication and nurture live on – in the family, the extended family and in the greater church community. Mum’s teachings about life’s journey were always honest. She often repeated to us children wise saying, often from the Book of Proverbs, as well as those Greek sayings she was familiar with. Those sayings were designed to help us, as children and young people, to be wise in life.

This year, in fact, a month ago my parents celebrated their 51st Wedding Anniversary, with their children and grandchildren, as well as family phone calls from Queensland and Tasmania. It was a wonderful milestone to reach, a happy time, with some good memories, and cherished photos.

We live in an age where some of the home values are not what they used to be. We talk about, for example, the “nuclear family” and whatever else… I give God thanks, as do my brother and sisters for the nurture and the love and the faith and the dedication we attribute to our Mum, Domna Klassek.

It’s touching to receive so many phone calls and emails from all over the place, including Greece, Austria, Germany, the USA, Jamaica, El Salvador: all remembering our loss, and joining in celebrating her life.

I’d like to take a few moments to read a few tributes, as well as have a few tributes read out.

An email from the United States sums it up beautifully:

Dear Brother John:

Greetings in the name of Jesus! I was saddened to learn of your loss. I pray that the Lord will comfort you and your family. I also know that you do not mourn as others who have no hope… you just grieve at the separation with someone so dear. The good news is that you will see her again and many of us will have the pleasure of meeting the one whom the Lord selected to nurture you in His Sovereign plan. Her legacy lives on through those she loved. God bless you brother! Your are in my prayers! Your Brother in Christ.

I would like to ask Christine to come forward to share a few words and read a tribute honouring Mum. Thanks Christine.

[Christine reading Helen’s words]:
I would like to offer a sincere and deep apology to everyone here today for my inability to attend this sacred family gathering to share in the farewell of our much loved Mother, Grandmother, Great grandmother, and Wife, Domna Klassek.

To our beautiful Mother: “A Mother holds her childrens’ hands for a while… she holds their hearts forever.” The love that you gave me is carried in my heart… and I pass this onto my children and I believe they will pass it on to their children. Every time I see a beautiful flower, a well kept garden or the little colourful birds that flit about enjoying the moment, I am reminded of your timeless love. Thank you for being my amazing Mother.

1 Corinthians 13.8 “Love never fails” also verse 13: “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

You will always be our Mother and your love will always shine on in our hearts. Lovingly always from your daughter, Helen.

[John]: Thanks Christine. Donna, our eldest daughter in Queensland sent the following tribute and in her absence today, I’d like to ask Hannah to read it out. Thank you Hannah.

[Hannah reading]:
“You were the one with the hugs,
The one with the love.
You were the smile that I loved to see.

You would cheer me up,
And you would lift my spirits,
After church, you’d chat with me.

I’ll miss you, Nan,
For the rest of my days,
But I know we’ll meet again

When Christ comes home
And lifts you up
In the resurrection.

I’ll love you forever, Nan,
and we’ll never forget you.

Donna Klassek.”

[John]: On behalf of Eric and Brenda, I would like to read Eric’s words:

“My Mum was a simple woman that loved her home life, and her family. She worked tirelessly to provide everything we needed as a big family. Many nights we sat down for dinner in the evening and mum spoke to us five children proudly that everything we were eating tonight from the meat, vegetables, milk, cream, dessert, butter, cheese was all home grown and came from her one acre block of land. What a mighty job she has done for all of us.”

That’s a beautiful and fitting tribute.

Would you all like to move in a little bit closer – because we’re family, we’re friends. In sharing these tributes, we’re also saying farewell and expressing family and community sentiment and thoughts of those things we value and cherish.

It might be suitable at this point, in celebrating Mum’s life, if we were to raise our voices in unison in a song called “As The Deer” – a song that my Mum particularly liked. You’ll find the words in the Order of Service. The words in this song I think say something to all of us: “You alone are my strength, my shield, To you alone may my spirit yield.”

Rebecca will lead on keyboard and we invite you to join in: “As the Deer…”

[Hymn: As The Deer Pants For The Water, So My Soul Longs After You]

In the past three years in the nursing home, Mum longed for the rest that God would give her, and this song seems to encapsulate this beautifully.

My mother’s favourite book of the Bible was the Book of Ruth.

Briefly, if I may introduce the story as a background to the scripture reading that’s following: Naomi’s husband and two sons all died within a short time of each other in a foreign land called Moab. They had escaped there in order to avoid a famine in their home country, and now she was left without a husband, without her sons; she was left with just her two daughters-in-law, and, Naomi determines to return back to her homeland of Israel.

[Leah reads from Ruth 1:7-17]  With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah. Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the LORD show kindness to you, as you have shown to your dead and to me. May the LORD grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.” Then she kissed them and they wept aloud and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.”

But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands?
Return home, my daughters; … No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the LORD’s hand has gone out against me!”

At this they wept again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-bye, but Ruth clung to her.

“Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”

But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.”

[John:] Thank you Leah.

I think my mother identified with Ruth in a very unique way; like Ruth, my mother migrated from her land of birth to the promised land, the lucky country – where we have so many resources, so many opportunities, so much wealth. She could identify with Ruth’s pledge to her mother-in-law, especially as she learned more about God. She said: “Your people will be my people, and your God my God… Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried.”

Mum made Australia home, and she loved it. When she returned back to Greece, she could compare after thirtyone years absence, what a lucky country this was, and how blessed we are. She told me of how blessed we are using an example she experienced. When we visit the bank, for example, and line up awaiting our turn, she was shocked at the frantic pace of life and shift in values that when you go to the bank in Greece, there’s no waiting in line. Instead, everybody elbows you out of the way. This shocked her, and she realised that we have an inheritance here that has moulded and shaped us into a prosperous and blessed people.

Many years ago, my Dad bought my Mum a Greek Bible which was always with her, and she quietly searched the scriptures in her own language, and so her faith was strengthened.

In the past three or so years, in our visits to the nursing home in Rossmoyne, we had many conversations, some with light banter and good memories, some deeply reflective, and it often involved grandmotherly advice to my daughters – like “work hard, save well, and don’t waste your money, etc” – good advice from her experiences.

She often reflected on her life in Greece and later in Australia. She talked of her faith in God, and genuinely appreciated all those who were praying for her.

She knew and held dear that God was in charge, and with declining health genuinely looked forward to finding rest, that “sleep in Christ”. Not so long ago, she took my hand and said, “John, I’m going to sleep. This is goodbye.” She said this without fear; she was courageous, and looking back, it was gladdening to have closure.

God is good, and He grants us time to say goodbye, and throughout our celebration today, we honour and glorify God.

I plagiarised what one of my friends once said to me, “The hope of the resurrection is as sure as tomorrow’s rising sun”. That’s effectively what Jesus said – on His authority. That’s why my friend could say that. That’s how sure we are when we celebrate the hope of the resurrection. We’re not talking about myth, or folklore, or fuzzy feel good sentiment. We’re talking about the Word of God, and on that we stake our claim. On that Word of God did Mum, Domna, Nanna put her heart. That’s precisely what my mother believed.

Mum and I talked about the words of Jesus on this subject. I think it’s appropriate if we remember them today and on what authority we make this claim – this hope of the resurrection. Listen to what Jesus says as recorded in John 5:19-30. Jesus said: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.

For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.

Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father. He who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father, who sent him. I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.

I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.

For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to judgment.”

When we discuss Jesus’ words on the hope of the resurrection, when we’re touched at such an occasion as this by our own mortality, we have the sure words of Jesus to base our living days on. That’s encouraging and comforting, for although we grieve with the sense of loss and separation on a physical level, there is coming a time of extraordinary joy, of remarkable power from heaven, when Domna will hear His voice and stand again. It’s awesome and so encouraging.

Do we have a pattern or precedent somewhere in history where this happened before? We do.

Remember the gospel account retelling the resurrection of Lazarus… Jesus went to the tomb, and Lazarus had been entombed for four days. He was certified dead; this wasn’t a resuscitation, this was resurrection. Jesus called out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” And the man Lazarus who was dead in the grave now four days, rose from the dead and came out still wrapped in the burial bandages!

From that day forward, many people in the surrounding region believed in Jesus on account of Lazarus’ resurrection. And when Nanna, and when your parents of faith, and when it’s your turn to stand up in the resurrection, those who remain and live on this earth will be so amazed, that like the Jews of the day who believed in Jesus the Messiah on account of Lazarus, so will many of the people you know today will finally come to belief. That’s encouraging and empowering.

Long before Lazarus, there were the patriarchs of old who believed this. Remember Job in history. He went through a really grievous time; he had to face the death of all his children among other calamities.

He said, “You (God) shall call, and I will answer you!” Job 14:15

So when we’re talking about death and separation and resurrection, we’re encouraged. Although we cry and shed a tear, but underlying our experience there’s a warmth and a joy – that I want you to carry with you when we leave here today.

About a month ago, I talked with Mum about the very things we’re sharing here today – the certainty of scripture: that at the appointed time, at Jesus’ return, Jesus will call out the name of all those who died in the faith and are asleep, and as the scripture says who have not yet attained the promise… they will hear the voice of God, and arise to glorified bodies, not physical and not suffering the effects of ageing; but shining brighter than the sun.

Domna Klassek – Mum – is now at peace, asleep, awaiting the hope of the resurrection. Jesus affirmed this when he said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” “I am the way and the life and the truth”. It’s only because of Christ that we have this authority to share this hope, to celebrate, and to go on with life.

From our purely physical, mortal perspective, it’s sometimes hard to imagine isn’t it? There’s a finality about death, a deadly certainty, and I’m sure we wrestle with it. But what does the Bible say, the foundation of our faith? Listen to what Jesus says, words lifted from scripture that speak to us today:

John 16:22 “So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.”

There won’t be an end to the joy promised. We may have a hearty laugh today, and tomorrow the laughter is gone. No one, says Christ, will take away your joy.

The epic Book of Revelation, at the close of the Bible, simply gives us just the “broad brush stokes” of the power and majesty of God, the journey yet ahead, glimpses of the future of things we should know and take to heart. These are the sure promises from God. God says, reading from: Revelation 21:4 “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

While we grieve with heartfelt tears, we also try to dry our tears – that’s normal in the journey of life. When Jesus was at Lazarus’ tomb, God among us, He wept. But know that one day God will wipe away ever tear forever. That’s a sure promise.

Finally, one of the greatest evangelists whose letters comprise much of the New Testament, Paul, wrote to the faithful living in Thessaloniki, Greece, only a few kilometres from where my mother was born. Listen to what Paul wrote, because it forms the core, underlying strength to the faith and hope that we have.

1Thessalonians 4:13 “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.

For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. [Again and again scripture refers to the deceased as being asleep].

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.”

And then Paul concludes with something that ministers to our hearts today:

“Therefore comfort one another with these words.”

Our responsibility today, now, is to love one another. This funeral service is for the living more than it is for the deceased. To love and comfort those God has given us – our parents, our spouses, our children and grandchildren, to love our neighbours and friends, those at school, our workmates and colleagues and so on – because we are mortal and our day of rest and reckoning is somewhere ahead for all of us. God holds us accountable to live as lights in this world.

Scripture reminds us that there are two certainties in life: that “there is a time to be born, and a time to die”. Ecclesiastes 3:2

If we had that scripture on its own, we might feel, well, of course, that’s self evident. But remember what Psalm 116:15 says: “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.”

That’s encouraging. That’s really empowering – that whatever we experience in this life and the loss we feel for Mum/Domna/Nanna, is tempered by God’s word.

Let’s take a moment to bow our heads in prayer, and come before the great sovereign God:

Eternal Father, our Almighty Sovereign God. Praise and honour and glory to You, for by Your word every atom exists. You hold “time in your hand” and, the greatest pinnacle of your creation has been Man, formed out of the dust of the ground. To Adam You said, “From dust you were taken, and to dust you shall return.”

But through Jesus You conveyed a bigger message; a message of hope and of redemption; a message of encouragement; a message of resurrection that permeates every page of scripture. Father, we pause before Your throne, because we know that we are mortal. Only through Christ do we have Life. Father, we pray and ask you, oh God, that the nurture that came through Domna/Nanna/Mum/a Saint – that we may continue that legacy of faith, the legacy of love, established by Christ as recorded in the scriptures.

Father, to You we commit and wait on the promise for every human being, including Mum. We hold Your promises dear, Father, and we wait and yearn for the fullness of Your Kingdom to come, when all the saints, all the righteous, will stand up again, in glory. Father, thank you for those promises; Thank you God that we can be empowered by a vision of the future that is sure.

We look to You today to comfort us; we ask you God to encourage and guide us in our loss, that we may not be empty vessels, but encouraged.

Father, You are Sovereign. You know us. You love us. You express that love to us through the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. And, Jesus speaking to us through the scriptures, says, “I’ll never leave you nor forsake you.”

We thank you for this confidence. We thank you for the life and resurrection that is in Jesus Christ, and we await the fulness of that day.

Hear our prayer, Oh God. Strengthen those of us who remain, that we may pass on to the next generation the hope in Christ, in Whose Name we pray, In Jesus Name, Amen.”

There’s a beautiful song – if you would like to take your Order of Service – that says, “Have faith in God.” It underscores everything that we have commemorated here today in this beautiful park here in Pinnaroo, Western Australia.

Rebecca will be on keyboard, with the words on the back page. “Have Faith In God”. Let’s raise our voices in praise and honour of God.

[HYMN “Have Faith in God”]

[BENEDICTION:] May God bless and strengthen you today. May our celebration of Domna Klassek’s life and legacy and work and nurture be something that you share with your children and grandchildren: the awesome hope we all have in Christ – asleep until the resurrection.

[Conclusion of service]

Author: John Classic

Pastor, IT Support, Film producer for MessageWeek Ministries