17 March 2017
Text: John 11:20-27 (Isa 46:3-4, 1 Cor 15:51-57)
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
Dear family, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, and honored guests, peace be with you.
Our dear brother Henry lived an extraordinary life on this side of the grave: nearly a century. He was born just after the World War I veterans came home. He lived through the Great Depression, and served honorably in World War II. In his lifetime, he saw both horses and buggies, as well as rockets and satellites and the information superhighway.
Living so long is a blessing, but it also has great challenges, like outliving most of one’s immediate family and friends, and the physical aches and pains and infirmities and limitations of old age. For the elderly, it is often a return to childhood in a way, being dependent for everything on loving family members. And Henry had no shortage of that kind of loving family right up until the Lord called him home.
Something else happened in Henry’s life, when he was twenty-one days old. On that day, baby Henry returned to his birth in a way, being dependent on loving parents to bring him to a new birth, in the words of Jesus, he was “born of water and the Spirit,” according to the Lord’s words, “You must be born again.”
This new birth happened at the church that I serve, Salem Lutheran Church, at the hands of my beloved predecessor, Pastor Eugene Schmid – and in the very same baptismal font that stands in our church to this day.
To unbelievers, this is hardly an important event in the life of a man. But for us Christians, this is an eternal milestone in our dear brother’s life. For Jesus said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” And the Lord Jesus told us to baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.” Pastor Schmidt applied water to the Lord’s servant Henry with these very words 35,244 days ago.
The Words and promises of Jesus have no expiration date. This same Lord Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and spoke to Martha, the sister of Lazarus: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live.” Those words were recorded in Scripture for us right here and right now, dear friends.
For this is the very reason our Lord Jesus Christ was born into our fallen world, where, because of our sins, we suffer, we age, and we die. This is true for every single one of us from Adam right to the newborn babies born today. Jesus came to us poor, miserable sinners, because He loves us, He redeems us, He restores us to holiness, and He brings us to everlasting life – not because we are worthy, but because He is worthy. And He is coming again to create a new heaven and a new earth, to grant us “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting,” and a glorious reunion with our loved ones who have been baptized into Christ’s death, for as St. Paul tells us by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.” That promise likewise knows no expiration date.
This, dear friends, is why we can be at peace even in our mourning. For the Lord’s servant Henry was set apart as a child of God, and was given an inheritance of life through the cross of Jesus, through His body and blood, through the promise of the Gospel. That promise is Henry’s, because our Lord Jesus Christ said so. That makes it true. It is not up for negotiation or interpretation. The promise of the Lord as spoken through the prophet Isaiah belongs to Henry as well: “even to your old age I am He, and to gray hairs I will carry you, I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.”
And though this prophecy to the Lord’s people was made 700 years before Christ, the Word of God has no expiration date. The promise was given to Henry as well, upon his becoming one of the Lord’s own beloved, chosen people.
One of the most comforting passages in the Bible comes from St. Paul’s first letter to the Church at Corinth. St. Paul speaks of the victory of Christ over the grave – which is today Henry’s victory as well. The apostle says: “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
And so, we mourn the loss of our father, our grandfather, our relative, our friend, a man whose life touched so many, whose love shaped generations of people for the better. It is fitting that we mourn. But we mourn in hope, dear friends, and we are even so bold as to mourn with joy, an act of defiance against sin, death, and the devil, all of whom were defeated by our Lord at the cross, the same Lord whose words continue to be proclaimed by His people, the same words that have no expiration date.
We mourn in expectation of seeing him again, in expectation of our own triumph over the grave in Christ Jesus. For Jesus walked out of His own grave by His own power. We Christians are gearing up yet again to celebrate this Easter victory, this promise made to Henry and to all who believe and are baptized.
Dear friends, take comfort in the words of Jesus when and where Jesus is proclaimed, where His Word continues to go forth, where His body and blood are freely given to you for the strengthening of your faith, where the Good News of our Lord’s triumph over death continues to ring out, now, and even unto eternity. Amen.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.