Sunday, February 05, 2012

Sermon: Funeral of Helen Elizabeth Green

5 February 2012 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Job 19:23-27 (Rom 6:3-11, John 11:20-27)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Gary, Michael, Amy, Jillian, family members, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, and guests: Peace be with you.

“I know that my Redeemer lives.”

Job said these very words thousands of years ago, and indeed these words were “inscribed in a book.” And truly, “what comfort this sweet sentence gives.” Job uttered this bold confession of hope in the midst of profound sorrow and suffering, in the devastation of mourning, death, and dashed hopes. It is a remarkable statement, for in the throes of death itself, it abounds with glory, teems with victory, and is dripping with the very stuff of life.

“I know that my Redeemer lives.”

Job does not merely dream, hope, or have a hunch. He knows. Job doesn’t say that maybe someone someday might beat back the scourge of death, but rather he confidently refers to this hero as his “Redeemer” – the one who purchases his own mortal life back at a ransom. And listen to Job’s defiance in the face of death and the grave: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”

With his own mortality looming, Job is confessing that a very specific Redeemer would appear in time and space to buy Job back from death and suffering, to defeat Satan and sin, to restore Job and all the redeemed back to what God had created him to be: alive and awake, filled with peace, love, and joy, perfectly healthy in body and soul, at harmony with all creation, and never again to die. For it is death itself that is doomed to die.

We Christians know who this victorious Redeemer is, who has come into our world to defeat death through death. And in light of the cross and the empty tomb, in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, in the life-giving promises of baptism and forgiveness, and in the sure confession of the mighty Word of God – we know not only who our Redeemer is, but we know that our Redeemer lives! And we too shall see God in our flesh, with our very eyes.

And yet we still struggle in this fallen world: with sin, sorrow, sickness, and sadness. We suffer with health problems, with aches and pains, and with the ravages of aging. And yes, we are confronted, even surrounded, with death: our own mortality as well as that of our beloved ones.

And in this fallenness, today we are a broken family. We are confronted with the bitterness of death. Our dear sister in Christ, Beth Green, is not able to unite her voice with ours in praise of our Redeemer. We cannot see her with our eyes or touch her in our flesh. And according to what our senses tell us, according to what the world would have us believe, and according to the lies of the malicious devil, we may be tempted to believe that we shall never again see our dear wife, mother, grandmother, friend, and sister in Christ again.

We may be tempted to say useless and shallow things like: “She lives on in our hearts” or “she lives on every time we remember her.” But we Christians join Job in confessing a literal physical resurrection – a resurrection of Beth even as we confess the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ: “I know that my Redeemer lives.”

For our Lord Jesus Christ died in our place for our sins. He has taken on our mortal flesh to make our flesh immortal. He is our Redeemer, and yes, He lives!

And because He lives, we live. Because He lives, Beth lives. “I know that my Redeemer lives.”

For “Do you not know,” dear friends, “that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.”

“Do you not know?” asks St. Paul. Indeed, we do know, dear friends, for as Job said: “I know that my Redeemer lives.”

Beth too knows that her Redeemer lives. And in her flesh, in her baptized flesh, in her flesh that partook of the Lord’s flesh and blood – she shall see God.

And in her flesh she shall see a God who is merciful, a God full of pardon and peace, a God who is the Lord and giver of life, a God who is love. Indeed, she now sees this God in her spirit, even as she awaits the resurrection of the flesh on the last day, even as we too confess and await this bodily resurrection.

Our Redeemer Jesus Christ gave us a little glimpse of His power over death and the grave even amid the sadness and mourning of Mary and Martha. “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died,” said a heartbroken Martha to her Redeemer. But the Lord Jesus did allow her brother to die, even as, in His hidden wisdom, He permitted our sister in Christ Beth to die. We do not know all the answers, for we are not God. But we do know the promises spoken by God: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.”

And the Lord asks us today, even as we mourn, the same question that He asked the mourning Martha: “Do you believe this?”

And we confess together in this place and with all Christians of every place, with St. Martha, and yes, with St. Beth, and with generations of saints yet to be born: “Yes, Lord; I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

“I know that my Redeemer lives!”

As we leave this holy house where Beth confessed her Redeemer together with us, where we partook of the flesh and blood of our Redeemer together, where holy absolution happens and where baptisms take place, where the confession that our Redeemer lives is spoken and sung – we will sing together yet again Job’s confession: “I know that my Redeemer lives.” The hymn opens with this confession and closes with this confession. And between these two confessions, in the course of the hymn, we will sing together twenty-nine times the words: “He lives.”

Dear friends, this refrain is the beating heart of the Christian faith. We Christians do not merely teach morals or wax nostalgic about a great man. We are not carrying out religious rituals for the sake of tradition. We are not performing psychological rites for the sake of closure. Rather, we are confessing together that we know that our Redeemer lives. We are celebrating the victory of our Lord over sin, Satan, and the grave. We are anticipating the physical resurrection of all believers – including that of Helen Elizabeth Eaton Green – in the real and literal sense. And we are crying aloud in victory: “He lives, she lives, we live! For I know that my Redeemer lives!”

He lives and grants me daily breath;
He lives and I shall conquer death;
He lives my mansion to prepare;
He lives to bring me safely there.

He lives, all glory to His name!
He lives, my Jesus, still the same;
Oh, the sweet joy this sentence gives:
I know that my Redeemer lives!


In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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