As I prepared for this week’s sermon, I read through Luther’s House Postil for the day. There must have been some sort of problem in Wittenberg that week, because his first sermon is about the comfort of the Gospel, and how even parents disciplining their children with a switch is a comfort, and so we should receive such discipline with thanksgiving. Reading through the Gospel reading, I didn’t read much about switches and rods, so I left that part out, and went with the outline for his second sermon: The comfort of the Gospel when facing death. Below the jump:
In today’s Gospel reading we learn that our Lord Jesus Christ is master even of death. This is a great comfort to us, because we live in a world of sin and death. There is a great need for us to hear this often, because everyone faces death. Today we see – in a very real way – the comfort we receive from the resurrection of our Lord.
We don’t know what the man’s life was like – was he sickly? Was he healthy and vibrant right up until the end? A century ago, the Spanish flu killed 3-4 percent of the world’s population in only 18 months. 50 million dead. Those at greatest risk of death were actually healthy young adults. Did the man get a quick sickness and just not recover? Was it an accident? We don’t know. And it doesn’t really matter. The end result is the same – a mother burying her child. Such things should not be. God never intended for it to be that way. He never intended a world of death at all.
It’s been almost a half-year since Easter. We’ve been looking at the life of the Christian, as we grow in faith toward God and love toward our fellow man. Today, we are reminded what it all goes back to. The death and resurrection of our Lord. While today’s Gospel reading is comforting, it is comforting not because that one man was raised – that does not help us. This Gospel reading is a comfort because it points us to Jesus work on the cross, and His resurrection from the tomb. That helps us in every way. Jesus resurrection broke the power of death and the grave. Now, death and the grave can not hold those who be believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Today we don’t see a one time exception. We see the beginning of a new rule – raised from the dead – today’s Gospel lesson is a reflection of Jesus and his work. He lives. And all who believe on his name will live. Through Baptism that life is no longer lived toward sin and death. We no longer live for ourselves, but Christ lives in and through us. You have been given a new life in him through the washing of water and the word.
When it comes to death, the world has nothing to offer. There is no hope. The world will talk about how wonderful the person was. But the world can say nothing about what is or will be. The only advice the world has to give is to take the person to the cemetery and bury them. Remember them, move on with your own life, hold them in your heart, whatever else we hear according to the pattern of the world, it can only talk about the life that was. We see many funerals re-labeled these days “A celebration of life…” But they mean a celebration of the life that is no more. The world has a lot of platitudes and sentiments that don’t really get us very far.
Jesus has few words. But they matter. To the mother, “Do not weep.” Easy for him to say. He hadn’t lost a child. But then he says something that’s so hard, it’s not just impossible – it’s insane. He says to the dead man, “Young man, I say to you arise.” That’s not a word the world can give. Jesus actually goes up to the casket at a funeral and says, “Time to not be dead.” That’s a platitude we don’t hear.
A man who can do that? You can understand why it says that fear seized them all. It grabbed hold of them. What power is this, that even death itself is undone? This guy makes dead people not dead! That definitely puts him in the “great prophet” category – at least. You don’t hear about that in the minor prophets. That’s Elijah level stuff. It’s huge. And even in Elijah’s case, it isn’t something that happens a lot. Jesus raises people left and right. And he promises resurrection to all who believe on his name. There will come a day – when all those in the graves will be raised and will breathe again. And it won’t be individually raised, like we see in Holy Scripture. A few here and there. This will be a trumpet blast, and then resurrection. Cemetery’s emptied. In scripture we hear Jesus say “Arise” so the people standing there would know and believe that he has raised the man from the dead. It is instruction. No need to instruct on the last day. The will of God is sufficient. Trumpet blast. Alive. Everyone raised from every grave. And then the judgment. That’s the promise we have.
And that promise is seen most clearly – even moreso than today’s lesson – in the account of our Lord’s death and resurrection. He suffered on the cross not just pain and death. He suffered the torments of hell so that you would have forgiveness of sins. That’s the sort of love your heavenly Father has for you. That he would send his only begotten son to be born of a woman, born under the law, so that he might redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
And heir of what? Of the same life that Jesus won on that cross. The life given to him on Easter, when he was raised from the dead by the glory of God the Father. The life given to you in Baptism, a life that makes its beginning in that water, and now trusts the promise of God in Jesus Christ. That’s why Saint Paul says we grieve – but not as those who have no hope. And hope does not disappoint. Hope is different than a wish. When scripture speaks of hope, it talks about watchman waiting for the morning. Hoping for the son. It’s waiting for something that is sure and certain. That’s why we are able to pray in today’s Introit:
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all the day.
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.
For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.
That’s the prayer of desperation – I cry all the day. And yet a prayer of firm conviction and hope, “You have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.” We are not abandoned by God.
Today we hear of a woman who lost her son. Your heavenly Father sent Jesus into the world to go into death for you. The Father himself has a child – his only begotten son – and he sends him into death on your behalf. That’s the sort of love your heavenly Father has for you. That he would send his own son into death so that you would be rescued from death. Jesus went into death to conquer death. And his work is proof not only of how much your heavenly Father loves you, but also how much He hates death. He sent his son into it to destroy it.
We hear this word today, because we need to be reminded of this love. If we are to live in love toward others. If we are to live in faith toward God, we must be fed with the medicine of immortality, the food that does not spoil: The promise of Jesus through his suffering and death redeeming and saving you from destruction. The same Jesus who gives his body and blood so that you would be fed and nourished in this faith, so that you would have the life he gives constantly renewed in you.
It’s been almost six months – almost half a since we’ve heard the promise in Jesus resurrection on Easter, and we’re almost half a year away from hearing it again. We need to be reminded of the life Jesus gives. This new life is more than just a way of thinking. It’s not just some philosophy for us to think about. It is a cold body raised off of the slab and given back to his mother. That’s what we see today. It’s what Jesus gives in the resurrection. During the Easter season, we say He is risen! The response is “He is risen indeed!”. Today we hear in the Gospel reading the comfort that as Christ was raised, so will you be raised. The same new life. A life that begins in Baptism – where you were first joined to Christ’s death and resurrection. A life that finds it’s fulfillment when our Lord returns and all the children given back to parents, and parents given back to children.
In today’s prayer, we prayed that the Lord’s grace would “always go before and follow after us…” That’s baptismal talk. God in front and behind us. We are totally enclosed in the grace and mercy of our Lord. As Jesus says to the disciples, “No one can snatch you out of my father’s hand.” We are taken into the arms of our savior. We are redeemed by him, and brought out of the world of death into the new life he gives us. And so we pray that we would live not according to the pattern of this world, but according to the pattern of the new life given in Christ. A life of faith and love.
Faith that finds is strength in Jesus and his work. And love that finds it’s work as we keep the commandments. Love is not a feeling or emotion. It is the concrete action of serving our neighbor for Christ’s sake. Those are the truly good works that we prayed for in our prayer today. That we would fulfill the callings God gives us, that we would live lives, not of greed an lust and anger, and pride. But lives of humble service to others. May God grant it for Jesus sake.