Mom died March 30. I just got back from a week in Switzerland where she died and where my sister Debby and her husband Udo had been caring for her.
We had a lovely service for her in the old stone church in the small alpine village of Gryon where she’d lived for many years with my sister. Here’s the sermon my brother in law Udo preached that meant so much to me.
A big thank you to all our family, the many children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, and even two great great grandchildren who filled the church.
Mom was then taken back to the Sates where she will be buried next to my father (Francis Schaeffer) in Rochester MN this week.
I said my goodbyes to Mom in the service in Switzerland and am so grateful to Debby and Udo who will conduct a service for Mom’s American friends this week in St. Paul MN and then will see Mom safely to her resting place next to my dad.
For those who wish to read my tribute to Mom you can find it HERE. But this sermon of Udo’s certainly represents what Mom believed in.
(Edith Schaeffer RIP)
Funeral Service in the Village Church of Gryon, Switzerland, April 19, 2013
Udo W. Middelmann
(Edith Schaeffer’s pastor and President of the Francis Schaeffer Foundation)
Edith Schaeffer: What an Extraordinary Life!
Edith Rachel Merritt Seville Schaeffer, your mother, grandmother, great grandmother and great- great grandmother, our mother – in – law and your friend died on March 30, 2013 in her home in Gryon, Switzerland, dressed in a new Ralph Lauren nightgown from Macy’s in NY, in clean sheets and in her own bed (as she had wished all her life). It was the night between Holy Friday and Holy Saturday, when many around the world are reminded of the cruel reality of death but also anticipate the resurrection, which made her, and makes us, wait for the return of Jesus Christ to deliver us from death. She had moved to Gryon 13 years ago to be surrounded by memories, her music, her son’s paintings and the detailed and increasingly complicated daily care, organized by her daughter Deborah.
Edith Schaeffer was born on November 3, 1914 as the third daughter of Dr. George Hugh and Jessie Maude Seville in Wenzhau, China, where her parents, who were both highly educated people, ran a school for girls and taught in Mandarin all subjects including the Bible, and where her father preached in churches, some of which still exist today.
(Becky, Kimberly and John Sandri play for Mom a last time)
Edith Schaeffer marked her life with the expression of rich ideas, being often rebellious against the staid and superficial life and routines she saw among Christians. The oldest sister became a communist in New York of the 30ies, the second eloped, before both, later in life, came back to believe in Christ and the truth of Christianity. Edith Seville married Francis August Schaeffer in 1935 and in no way was she the typical pastor’s or missionary wife. She turned her active mind to work with her husband, teaching seminary wives to think and to question, to create and make of life something of integrity, as her husband encouraged her to do.
To put her husband through 3 years of seminary she tailored men’s suits, made ball room gowns and wedding dresses for private clients. From whole cow skins she made belts sold in New York stores. With very little money she prepared tasteful and varied meals. She painted a fresco on the ceiling of the vestibule in the little church her husband pastored in Grove City, while he attached a steeple to it with the elders’ help. They worked very closely together in each of the three parishes they occupied, in Chester and in Grove City, Pennsylvania, and in St. Louis, Missouri among people from many backgrounds and educational proficiency, including a large work with children of the community.
(Debby caring for Mom a last time)
She lived her life as a work of art, an exhibition of true significance and a portrait of a generous, stunning and creative personality. She always sought ways to draw on life’s opportunities to show that human beings are made for the enrichment of everyone’s life, for the encouragement of people and for honoring the creator with pleasure found in created things. Our world is full tragedy and broken hopes, and bones everywhere under the ground, but her efforts to find, create and expand left-over beauty in a fallen world are a a central part of the work she and her husband engaged in from the very start of their life together.
She was in all things generous. When her 17 books provided royalties she used all of it to give her four children and their families annual reunions for the cousins to know each other. She enjoyed people in the streets, in airplanes and over the phone, wherever she found them or when they could reach her. She stayed up nights to help someone out of their distress or need. With much imagination she served her meals with stunning decorations made from twigs and moss, field flowers and stones. Duncan Kabiru from Kenya once remarked: “This is the first place where I see the beauty of the truth of the Bible consistently carried over into all areas of life.”
She came to Europe and settled Switzerland with her family in 1948. She travelled with her husband to help churches from Finland to Portugal by teaching pastors and parents overcome both their post-war discouragement and doubt, and the inroads of Karl Barth’s existentialist theology which was destroying the confidence in the truthfulness and accuracy of God’s word, the Bible. When the family was evicted from the Canton of Valais for having had a religious influence in Champery, because the mayor had concluded that God, as told in the Bible, existed, many people all over Switzerland expressed their astonishment and made it possible for the family to stay and find a home in Huemoz. For years they welcomed anyone with questions about life and truth, first into their hospitable home for discussions, lectures and study of historic Christianity, and later into what then became a cluster of homes, which they called L’Abri.
(Frank Schaeffer at Edith Schaeffer’s service in Gryon with a favorite niece)
When she left the work of L’Abri after her husband’s death in 1984, and now living in Rochester, MN, where he is buried, she started the Francis A Schaeffer Foundation with Udo and Deborah Middelmann and others to safeguard his papers and to continue to work with the ideas that underlined their life, to make them available for a wider audience. She found people always interesting anywhere, engaged them in conversation and so met the most amazing individuals. She talked, for instance, with the author Andre Aciman, standing in a long line for tickets to a concert in NY and found out that he also had had our village doctor, Dr. Andre Gandur, as his pediatrician in Alexandria, Egypt. He was so grateful to be in touch again with his old doctor through the contact on the street in NY with Edith Schaeffer.
Edith Schaeffer then, after the death of her husband 29 years ago, added a whole new chapter to her life. She continued to write books (there are 17 in all), lectured widely and returned twice to her place of birth in China. She investigated the making the Baby Grand Piano she had received as a gift at the Steinway factory in New York and presented “Forever Music” in a concert at Alice Tully Hall in New York with the Guarneri Quartet. Through Franz Mohr, the chief piano voicer at Steinway she came to know musicians like Rostropovich, the pianists Horowitz and Rudoph Serkin, the Cellists YoYo Ma and Ya Ya Ling, and also the guitarist Christopher Parkening. She organized concerts and elaborate receptions for musicians and friends in her home in Rochester, MN. When she met B. B. King at the International Jazz Festival in Montreux he gave her his pass to the evening’s concert and invited her backstage afterwards. Once on vacations on the island of Elba, the saxophonist Sonny Rollins noticed her beauty and rhythm in the audience as she danced to his music, came off the stage and danced with her.
She did not see age as a reminder to slow down, or physical problems as signs from God to seek spiritual rest. Until a very few years ago she came along on summer vacations with children and grandchildren. When the stones and sand made walking more difficult, she still enjoyed three other visits to Italy: in Sienna with us one year and in a hotel on Elba with a grandchild during another. She even went to Portofino once more to stay in the hotel she and her husband loved, and went swimming at 91 in her beloved Mediterranean Sea.
Even when experiencing macular degeneration, unable to read and write, and diminishing physical security and movement, her life still consisted of being driven to enjoy frequent concerts in St. Saphorin, in Ollon and La Tour-de-Peilz until last autumn. Just four months ago three men carried her in her wheelchair to the second floor of a Vevey movie theater to watch the latest Woody Allen film. She listened to books on tapes and laughed at familiar personages and chapters in books John Sandri, Lizbee Laughery and each of the ladies helping us read out loud to her; she danced until quite recently with Marie-Louise Corthesy in her living room to the music of Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra, or played with a ball and beat the drums in the rhythm of the music. At night, wide awake and comfortably settled, she watched BBC Four TV for its concerts, its programs on history, geography and life on the British Island among different social classes, humorous programs and scandalous revelations.
Last summer she still went with delight on eight boat trips on Lake Geneva, which she loved to do. She went to almost all birthday parties of our children and grandchildren, riding in her wheelchair anchored to the floor of a special vehicle, and opened stockings for Christmas with our family last year on her bed at Mon Abri.
Every day she was given the orientation and security in familiar surroundings: her son’s paintings, her furniture, linen curtains and Peter Fretz’ bedspread, her Steinway Baby Grand Piano and the view of mountains and roofs out the open windows, her books and her music played at full volume. She loved bright lights, the curtains wide open, her familiar dishes and the colorful and fashionable clothes she continued to wear. She had perfume on her body and was properly dressed every day. She clung to life as a gift from God and always took a lively interest in conversations with our students and guests in Gryon, and with those children and grandchildren who came to visit her. In her hope and expectation she waited for Christ to return, rather than to die herself, so that, as the Bible promises, she and our generation would be part of those who do not have to die.
The struggle along her life and for life reminds us all of God’s grief over every death, of Jesus’ sorrow when confronted with sickness and death, of the care of our creator when nature falls apart and bodies and minds no longer work. She wrote earlier on many occasions, and now chose often, against the notion that God is behind all manner of hardship. Jesus tells us of a purposeful creation, established with care for details and beauty, but now sadly cracked and wounded. He offers no resigned acceptance of sickness, age and death as human destiny, but demonstrates both moral outrage at these when we heals the sick, argues against false religions and the rules that hinder people from believing what God tells us in the Bible. Jesus Christ is furious at the death of Lazarus and drives out evil spirits and sickness.
There is no fatalism in God’s word and no resignation in Jesus life, but confidence in the continuing work of God to save and redeem people and his creation. God made a wholesome and beautiful world, meant to be enjoyed in its materiality that expresses the delight of the Creator’s imagination and power. Though now severely wounded and spoiled it nevertheless is not denied or neglected. Men and women and children are only fully human in the wholeness of their minds, souls and bodies.
The night before Edith Schaeffer died in her sleep, the night between Good Friday and Holy Saturday, she had received the Easter flowers we had sent, I had talked with her about the hope of the resurrection and reminded her of the Good News that God made us to live eternally. That night she “slipped into the nearer presence of Jesus”, her Lord, from whom she awaits the promised resurrection to continue her life on earth and to love, talk and dance once again with a body restored to wholeness.
Eyes Opened for “a Way of Seeing”
In a column written for a magazine some years ago Edith Schaeffer describes the first time she was invited to put on a mask attached to a floating oxygen pump in order to snorkel and see the world under the surface of the sea. “You have not seen anything yet. Wait until you see what is under the surface,” she was told.
She had been perfectly satisfied with what she had seen above water and was sure she could not learn to breathe under water, and the mask they offered could probably not be trusted.
A long discussion described the air producing machine. “All you have to do is put on the mask, jump in, swim under bit, then breathe naturally, and look around”. But a hesitancy, a holding back, a desire to spend more time examining the mask kept me in the world above water and kept me from ‘seeing’ what was being described for us in partial fashion about the world under water.
Suddenly she decided to take the plunge. She had decided that the designer of the mask had prepared to open up wonders she could never see otherwise. Now it was time to swim and look. One moment before all she had seen was the blue undisturbed surface water as far as the eye could see. Her eyes could not have witnessed to the fact that anything was under the surface, except for the occasional fish someone had caught. But now a whole new world opened up, as different from the world above the water as anything one could imagine. Suddenly it was impossible to think of anything but the awesome marvel of purple fanlike plants, gently waving as in a breeze, light lavender plants with brown markings, beige lace leaves and frosty-mauve “pine trees”. Coral that looked like antelope antlers was alive with fish, deftly swimming in curves with all the grace of swooping birds through branches at twilight.
Fish swimming in groups looked like a family reunion out for a time of exploring as they darted and then moved slowly between plants and rocks and coral. The variety of striped and spotted and divers-shaped fish was almost too exciting to stand. The ledges and sudden caverns had to be seen to be believed. Amazing fish of all sizes and colors, all shapes and shade combinations. Red and orange to bright yellow, green, blue, gray and purple, they were obviously leading busy lives.
This scene had been going on before she suddenly saw it, her observation, discovery and understanding did not make it materialize. She had come to find out the truth about what exists under the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, because she had finally stopped arguing about the reliability of the air masks. Without it she would not have been able to make the discovery of what she now saw as part of the same universe.
There is no (I can’t think of any) better comparison than with the fantastic marvels opened up for us when we look through God’s “mask” and breathe the air God supplies for us to stay alive. The Bible, God’s word, is our “breathing mask”. Through it we are to see of His creation in the past: Ps 95: 3-7
Section Three: The Source of all Comfort and the Hope of our Restoration
When we look through God’s word, the Bible, as a “mask and snorkel” we find also what we need for the present daily life in exciting real glimpses of what He means us to have now, moment by moment. We thank God for the provision of a ‘mask’ by the Creator of all things, God Himself, for the immediate moment. With increasing terror and violence, tragedy and evil we now see what otherwise could not be seen, and find comfort in God, our Heavenly Father, who has given us his word. It is like a snorkel and mask to discover things in whichever area it speaks, which we could not discover if we remained on the surface of the water.
We can trust God’s word and look with excitement for the heavenly city described in Revelation 21 and 22. We are meant to ‘see’ through God’s word. With God’s word we do not have the wrong equipment, but can look with some measure of understanding at the wonders and troubles of the past, the present and the future history. With that mask we gain comfort and confidence in, and expectation of, God’s future work. With that mask it will become clear that death and any form or manifestation of evil is not part of God’s will or doing, that a human person was not meant to die and loose her body, but will live forever, at some time reunited as a resurrected, physical person.
Jesus Christ, raised the third day, is the first of what God will powerfully accomplish in the eternal, resurrected life of his children. One day, God will let us find out what at present is outside of our field of vision, our sights, because our eyes have not yet seen or ears heard or the heart of man imagined. But with the masque God has given us in the Bible he has prepared to show us what more there is to the universe he created in perfection in the past and which he will one day restore together with the elimination of death.
As J.S. Bach puts it in his first Canatata (BWV 4): It was a miraculous battle, when death and life wrestled; life there sustained the victory, it swallowed up death. The Scriptures had foretold this, how one death would devour the other; a mockery is become of death. Hallelujah!
Edith Schaeffer describes her expectation that the same enjoyment she has had during her long life with people, things, places and ideas, made and ordered by God, will continue when Christ returns to earth to reign in righteousness and perfection. She was not longing to abandon life and get to heaven, to be reduced to a soul. Instead she longed to be freed from the brokenness of a body and mind, of a severely damaged world around her, from the tragic interruptions of a creative life and such sorrows which Christ also knew, and prayed with trust in God as a heavenly father to lead, comfort and encourage her and others in the present life, so that in the coming reign of Christ on earth her work would follow after and stand.
This confidence is given from the explanations of the Bible, that book opens up, like a mask for snorkeling, a coherent understanding of the wider universe. It presents the loving creator who made people differently from all nature, and his passionate desire to restore us into his family as well as our lives and bodies into what human beings were created to be forever. According to the Bible, people are never alone and not emerging, then disappearing in the natural world. We are loved by God, wanted as people and designated for eternal life, which God will provide when death is finally swallowed up in the victory of Jesus Christ for our new life.
The Bed-rock of our Confidence
Almighty God, the framer of our bodies and the Father of our spirits.
God’s ideas to create things and people lie behind our belief, and Edith Schaeffer’s, in and acceptance of God’s word. His existence alone can explain why there are things and people like us, who are not things like everything around us. It tells us about our place and purpose in this world, of human work and accomplishment and the rightful use of minds and hands, of the need to oppose wrong, ugliness and death itself, and to enjoy life in all its good dimensions. Love, work and effort, creativity, imagination, justice in private and public life, exploration and every artistic expression are mandated to continue forever and are rewarded, while death, hate and injustice are severely condemned and rejected.
For that reason prophets spoke to correct error and wrong in Israel and to address genuine hope of God’s grace, love and power to restore a broken world in the future.
To counter the evidence of the present rule of death, God’s word tells us that life continues after death in the same reality of one universe in the presence of God, where the living wait for the resurrection of their body and Christ’s reign on earth.
Our comfort lies not in common death or inevitable history; nor in the fact that after 98 years and 5 months Edith Schaeffer had had a long life and was now ready to die. There is in fact no right time to die, when each unique person has woven close relationships, sharpened skills and desires a genuine future consequence of our present life. What she longed for was not death or a place called heaven, but release from every increasing hindrance to her life of the mind and her body. Like her father who until the day he died at 101 years of age prayed for the return of Christ so that he would not have to die, Edith Schaeffer also treasured being human and rightly saw death not as a deliverance, but as violence against what God had made human beings to be: sensitive, creative, wise and loving with increasing opportunity and skill, and without an end to her bodily existence. She was not looking for a home in heaven, but for God to sweep out the corruption of God’s house in creation. I am confident that now in one of the mansions Jesus has prepared for everyone who loves God she waits for the day of the Lord and the restoration of God’s universe.
Death as the consequence of Adam’s rebellion against God has not been part of God’s intention. He created life, not death, which is called by St. Paul “the last enemy” to be conquered. Its victory has been crushed, its sting will be removed.
Edith Schaeffer believed in the existence of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and their fine creation of a good world. She knew of God’s frustration with what Adam’s believed, that he “could be like God”, but which lead to death and the falling apart of everything. But she also understood that God immediately set out to initiate the long process of repairing the damage. The promises were maintained. God’s people received verbal and immediate assurances and direction. Faithful people labored to express compassion, to seek and administer justice. The Messiah came and died to clean away our moral guilt. In the same way He will next come back to restore all of creation to what it was and should have been all along. The lamb and the lion will then be able to lie down together once again.
Comfort and Assurance from the One True and Living God:
2nd Cor 1:3,4
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our affliction that we may be able to comfort them that are in any affliction, through the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted.
I am the resurrection and the life; he that believes on me, though he die, yet shall he live; and whosoever lives and believes on me shall never die.
Isaiah 48 :12ff
Listen to me, O Jacob and Israel whom I called! I am he, I am the first and I am the last. My hands laid the foundations of the earth, and my right hand spread out the heavens, when I call to them they stand forth together….Draw near to me, hear this: from the beginning I have not spoken in secret, from the time it came to be I have been there. And now the Lord God has sent me, and His Spirit.
John 14: 1 -3
Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.
2nd Cor 5:1,6-8
For we know that if the earthly house of our tabernacle, i.e. our body, be dissolved, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. We are therefore always of good courage and know that while we are in the body we are absent from the Lord (we now walk by faith, not by sight); we are of good courage, I say, and are willing rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.
Your eyes shall see the king in his beauty, they shall behold a far-stretching land
There shall yet old men and old women dwell in the streets of Jerusalem, every man with his staff in his hand for very age.
And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and confidence for ever.
Fear not, for I have redeemed you: I have called you by your name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you; when you walk through the fire, you shall not be burnt, nor will the flame kindle you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
You have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no-one can take your joy away from you.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Your staff will comfort me. You prepare for me a table in the presence of my enemies. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
I know that my redeemer lives and that he shall stand up at the last upon the earth, and after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God
I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers nor height nor depth nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will we not fear, though the earth does change, and though the mountains be moved in the heart of the seas; Though the waters roar and are troubled, the mountains shake with the swelling waters.