20 August 2012 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Mark 16:1-7 (Isa 25:6-9, Rom 8:28-39)
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
Dear Chris and Ellen, Colin, family members, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, and honored guests, “Peace be with you!”
St. Paul speaks about the “sting of death.” The passing away of a beloved mother, grandmother, aunt, friend, teacher, and sister in Christ stings. It hurts. And the closer we are to the person who has fallen asleep in Christ, the deeper that wound is. It is painful and sorrowful.
There is a famous quote from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet: “Parting is such sweet sorrow.” But in the case of death, there is nothing sweet about this parting. It is bitter. It is hurtful. It causes us to grieve. It is the separation that is so painful. It is a separation, a parting that we are never really prepared for.
And try as we might, we cannot make death natural, normal, or some kind of relief from suffering. For according to the truths revealed in the Bible, death is none of these things. Death is nothing good. Death is what mankind brought into the world by sin. Death is our failure to live as we should. Death comes to all of us because we are all guilty of sin.
Our dear sister in Christ Audrey knew this. She heard the Word of God preached again and again. She confessed her sins and she confessed the faith. She studied the Scriptures, she received the forgiving washing of Holy Baptism as a child, and she received the forgiving nourishment of the Holy Supper even to the end of her nine decades of life in this fallen and grief-stricken world. Audrey knew the sting of death. She endured it many times. But Audrey also knows that Jesus has conquered death. She enjoys this in eternity!
Audrey was created in the image of God, redeemed by the grace of God, and has now been brought into the perfect sanctified peace of God. She has conquered sin because her Lord Jesus has conquered sin. That, dear friends, is why Audrey spent her ninety years worshiping the Lord in the Lord’s church. We Christians do not gather around altars because we are perfect, but rather because we are sinners. We come here seeking the antidote to death – and we find it here! We are indeed forgiven and transformed sinners.
And yet, when death confronts us, we grieve. And what could be a more normal reaction! We are saddened by our separation from those we love. And would it be any other way? But, dear friends, I have good news for you: tombs are only temporary resting places for the forgiven sinners that we Christians are! Our Lord Jesus blazed that trail, when after dying to take upon Himself our death, our punishment, He rose victoriously from the dead!
When the grieving Mary’s walked to the tomb in their sadness and mourning, they found it empty. The angels turned their weeping into boundless joy with these words: “He has risen!” And Christians ever since that first Easter have responded: “He is risen indeed!”
Dear friends, because He lives, we live. Because He lives, she lives. Because He loves us, we have hope. Because He redeemed us, we have life.
Life, dear friends! Life that cannot be taken away, life that never ends, literal life, awaiting the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. This is the promise of the same Jesus who walked out of His own grave. This is the same promise of the same Jesus who greeted His disciples after the resurrection with the words: “Peace be with you!”
For though we mourn, we do have this peace: the peace that passes all understanding. We may not feel it right now, but it is there. It is the peace of the assurance of God’s Word, declared by God’s Son, proclaimed through the Son’s resurrection, who promises our own resurrection.
And even in our sorrow, we can take comfort that as St. Paul teaches us in the Word of God: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”
“All things,” dear friends, are worked by God for our good – even when it seems to us to be hopeless and beyond repair. “In all things” Scripture teaches us, God works for the good of those who love Him and who have been called.”
Blessed Audrey was called at her baptism, and God continued to share Himself with her, His beloved child, every time she communed with Him in His Word and in the Holy Sacrament.
“What then shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” Is there any more comfort than this, dear friends? God is on our side – we who mourn, we who struggle emotionally with the separation from our loved ones. For this separation is only temporary, and it is limited.
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?.... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”
“Through Him who loved us,” dear friends in Christ. Our Lord loves us. Our Lord dies for us. Our Lord rises again for us. Our Lord prepares a place for us. Our Lord promises a reunion with us and with all those whom we love. This is not just a way of speaking. This is as real as the empty tomb in Jerusalem and as inevitable as any future event in history.
Listen to these words of comfort, dear friends. Listen to what the Lord has to say to you – especially to Chris, to Ellen, and to Colin. Listen to the Lord’s Words anyone who suffers for any reason in this life. Listen to the ironclad promise of the One who conquered death and the grave, who defeated Satan and sin, who breathes new life into men and women the world over through His atoning blood and mercy, listen to St. Paul comfort us in Holy Words that are not merely eloquent like Shakespeare, but are true and eternal because they are God’s promise: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
For though we feel the sting of death, death is defeated. Though we are separated from our beloved Audrey, nothing shall separate her, or us, from the love of God. Though we are wounded by sorrow, the wounds of the Man of Sorrows has delivered the free gift of life and forgiveness to us at the cross. And though weakened by very real and profound grief, we are strengthened by the sure and certain promises of God’s almighty Word: “Surely this is our God; we trusted in Him, and He saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in Him; let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.”
And so we Christians wait eagerly for the return of our Lord, our loving Lord, our risen Lord, our almighty Lord. We wait in hope for our reunion with those we love, for our mourning to become dancing, for the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. We wait expectantly with the ever-comforting greeting of our risen Lord on our lips: “Peace be with you!”
Dear friends, peace be with you, now and even unto eternity! Amen.
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In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.