I was asked to share a 5-10 minute message as part of the memorial service for my Grandmother who went to claim her mansion 2 weeks shy of her 101st birthday. That 12 minute message follows:
John 14:2 In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
It is an honor to be able to speak to you today about Katherine Schnell, my gramma. It is hard to describe the mix of emotions a day like this brings. There is temporary sorrow as we feel the loss of her presence and her love, but there is everlasting rejoicing as we know she has reunited with family in heaven, claimed her mansion and is able to receive the presence of God in His full glory.
Being one of the grandchildren who did not live in the immediate vicinity, most of my memories of gramma were memories of family, love… and food. It was always an exciting day when as a family we would get in the car and were going to the farm, but I get ahead of myself.
It is amazing when you think of all of the history Gramma saw in her life. As a student teacher, I taught the Grade 9 social studies curriculum; Gramma actually lived it. She lived in the time of the Czars. She survived a famine in Russia that saw her eating cod that had been send by the people of Canada. She saw the Russian Revolution first hand even having the “big” family house commandeered by the Bolsheviks 10thArmy. Those early years in her life were very hard by our western standards, and would likely have been seen as quite unfair to them, but by the time she was 13, their family made the choice to leave Russia and come to Canada. This was a timely choice as the iron curtain soon after closed, but also one that without many of us would not be here.
When Gramma was going on 16, her family made the choice to move from Burtensville where they had first settled to a new farm in Castor right across from the man who would one day be our Grampa. Once again, the choices that were made brought many of us here.
Gramma and Grampa were married on Christmas Eve when she was 21 years old. They chose a life together and worked hard to make a wonderful home. By 1940 they had moved to the Ponoka area and within a couple years had settled on the farm we all know and love.
I have such fond memories of that farm. You see, I was the “city boy” cousin. Building bail forts in a hayloft, or jumping from those lofts into the hay below were something I could only do at Gramma and Grampa’s. Although the food at our house was good, I’m sure my mother would agree that nobody cooked like gramma could cook. The food alone made the trip exciting for a teenage boy who liked to eat. In fact, in our family a smoked pork shoulder has always and will always been referred to as a Gramma Ham. I must admit, the “traditional roles” around the dinner table didn’t hurt my feelings too much either, but I’ve grown in that understanding now that I’m married.
Gramma’s house was a place that family gathered and spent time enjoying one another. We were there for all the important days growing up and I can’t remember Christmas as a kid without her. I loved going to Grampa and Gramma’s and I know that Gramma loved having all of us there. Her family was her life; her home was her earthly mansion. I’m sure that even in her passing, she loves to see her family coming together right now. We must not forget to keep each other close.
Gramma and her family made some significant choices in their lives that saw them move halfway around the world, meet her future husband and create the life that touched us all so deeply. More so, Gramma made a greater choice that allows this day to mark joy and not sorrow; she chose early in life to trust in the words Jesus spoke to Mary and Martha: John 11: 25 Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: 26 And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?
As her life in Canada is a testament to the choices of Gramma and her family, our lives here are also a testament to the greater choice Gramma made to trust in Jesus as the resurrection. Gramma loved God and lived her life knowing that one day she would see Jesus face to face.
Just as many of our lives are direct results of Gramma’s life, her belief also led to the ability for each of us to choose to believe in Christ as well. Her choice to have faith in Christ over the years was passed down from generation to generation to generation to generation. Gramma’s faith meant I did not have to search for Christ, I was in a family that already knew Him. Gramma’s choices became my blessing. My choice became a small journey in the footsteps she already laid. I have no doubt this is something Gramma wanted for her family. 3 John 1:4 says “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” and I am sure she has spent countless hours in prayer so that we can one day know Christ and visit her in that mansion.
We have a choice too. The life of Katherine Schnell, of Gramma, has given us all easy access to the good news God shared with us: News to prosper us and not to harm us. News to bring us hope. News that can save our souls. I would be remiss if I did not take some time to share that news once again with you.
Isaiah 53:6 says All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Romans 3:23 says it this way: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
Let me briefly put it into my own words. Each and every one of us has at one time or another chosen our way over God’s way. We have been selfish and acted through on that. We have sinned. Sin disqualifies us from being in the presence of God. That sin in our lives therefore separates us from God forever.
1st John 4 tells us Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love …. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
Regardless of how much fire and brimstone you want to attribute to what Hell is actually like, I do believe this. If God is love, and sin means eternity without God, Hell is eternity without love. It is eternity without ever fulfilling our innermost need and desire. It is eternity with the most profound loneliness you could never imagine.
But God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. (John 3:17)
God does not want us to be alone, outside of His presence, He wants us to spend eternity the way we were made to… In our mansion. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
God knew the problem and solved it for us. He came into this world. He remained perfect. He earned heaven and instead took the penalty for our sins. He made the choice. He paid the price. He paved the way to separate our sins from us, rather than let us be separated from Him.
The choice to move to Canada was probably easier than the journey itself. I’m sure Gramma could have told you countless tales. The choice to accept Christ’s life as a sacrifice is easier than the journey that comes after, but I can assure you, it is full of blessings and will bring forth fruit.
This is what Gramma believed and would want to convince us all of. She was so confident of this truth that led her to pray for release from her physical body in recent months. She knew that to be absent from the body was to be present with the Lord. So we celebrate long life that she lived in closeness to God and in whose presence she now is.
Gramma’s choices brought life, love and faith to our presence. Our choices can continue that legacy.