Listen to it:
Psalm 27, et al.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Family and friends of Todd, especially Nikki, McKenzi, Maci, Madi, Bev, Orville, Dave, and Melanie. If it was up to me to come up, somehow, with words of comfort or encouragement or sympathy, I’m not sure what I would have for you. What words of mine could possibly give you what you need right now? Thank God that He has put me here not to give you my own words, but His own unbreakable Word. Today He has a very specific Word for you, and it is a Word about reality—actually, two realities. One is a reality that you know far too well, and the other is a reality of which we have to be reminded again and again.
You know the first reality every time you say or think, “It should not be like this.” It should not be like this. We should not be here, you should not be there, and Todd’s body should not be there. The first reality is death in our midst, and we know, no matter what any well-intentioned person might say, that it should not be like this. God did not create bodies and souls to be separated from each other; He did not create families to be separated from each other. What God has joined together should not be separated. And yet it is. And our questions, especially “Why?” go unanswered, at least fully. God has given us no answer for why this man at this time, other than the curse of sin that hovers over each and every one of our lives: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19, ESV). To the question of why, the only answer is Job’s: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return. [Yahweh] gave, and [Yahweh] has taken away; blessed be the name of [Yahweh]” (Job 1:21, ESV). Ironically, death is the reality of life in this world, but no matter the age at which the Lord calls us out of this life, we know death as a curse, as the curse, as the enemy of the Lord who is Life itself, and so of His people. That is the first reality, and it is one we rightly mourn and for which our tears are the proper response. Confronted by death, we rightly mourn the sting of death, which is our sin.
We see the reality of death; how could we avoid seeing it? But there is a greater reality, and it is the only thing more certain than death. The greater reality is Jesus Christ, who did not give us platitudes about a beautiful death, who did not give us sentimental nonsense about the dead growing angels’ wings, who did not tell us that death is just a part of life. The Jesus we follow wept at the wreckage death had wrought on His friend Lazarus and on His creation. Our Jesus did not take death in stride, except as He willingly followed the road to Jerusalem. No, He went there with the sword of His mouth and His serpent-crushing heel. But it was all unseen by human eyes. The reality of what Jesus was doing, and is doing, is always hidden in this creation. All human eyes could see was a broken, defeated man hanging helpless on a Roman cross. All human eyes could see were nails, and thorns. All human eyes could see was death. Just like us here and now.
But the truth remains for the one with eyes to see and ears to hear: Jesus Christ rose from the dead, and in that moment, reality became otherwise than human eyes can see. Now there is a reality for Todd and for us that is beyond sight; now there is peace that is beyond understanding. Now, though our eyes saw Todd’s body fail him, and though we saw a helpless man, who looked like he had been defeated, the reality is that Jesus was victorious over death at that moment; My power, the Lord says, is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). The reality is that Todd’s heavenly Father worked even death for his good. The reality is that not even death could separate him from the love of God in Jesus Christ, his Lord. Our God is not the god of the dead, but of the living, and though we cannot see it, Todd lives even now, resting with all the saints in the presence of the Lord. We believe it not because we can see it, but because the One who promises is faithful. We believe it because 36 years ago, on April 12, the Lord created Todd in the womb of his mother, and then, on June 16, recreated him in the womb of the Church. Jesus wrote His name on Todd so that, above all, death and the devil would never be able to mistake the signature and know whose Todd was. But Jesus didn’t leave him there. He continued to speak His Word, and He continued to deliver His forgiveness for Todd’s sins. At his confirmation, Jesus spoke this Word over him: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12, ESV). Following Jesus, Todd did not walk in darkness. Jesus brought him to His Table, and fed him again and again with His own living Body and Blood, even in the last week of his life. And throughout it all, Jesus was writing His own resurrection reality into Todd’s body and soul: the reality that death is a conquered enemy; that, though this body would not last in this creation, there was a new body coming, waiting for Jesus to simply speak the Word and the whole creation will be healed.
A few days before his death, Todd said to me, “I’m not a singer or a musician of any sort, but the hymn I want at my funeral is ‘Beautiful Savior.’” He had heard it in Rochester while waiting for one procedure or another. Whatever it was that struck Todd about that particular hymn, I know this: that the Lord said to Todd, “Seek My face,” and that Word created in Todd the response: “Your face, Lord, do I seek” (Psalm 27:8). “One thing have I asked of [Yahweh],” said the psalmist, “that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of [Yahweh] all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of [Yahweh] and to inquire in his temple. For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock. … I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of [Yahweh] in the land of the living!” (Psalm 27:4-5, 13, ESV). That Savior, beautiful not with earthly beauty, but with the beauty of wounded hands and feet, did indeed hide Todd in the day of trouble. He hid him in the shelter of His merciful cross, and placed him on the rock that cannot be broken: Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16). So for you. Know that He is the Father of the fatherless and a judge on behalf of widows (Psalm 68:5); that He is near to all who call on Him in truth (Psalm 145:18); He is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18). Know that Todd waits in the presence of the beautiful Lamb that was slain for the sins of the world. He waits, as we do, for that great day when we will behold the beauty of the Lord in our newborn flesh; we, too, will look upon the goodness of Yahweh in the land of the living. Wait for Yahweh; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for Yahweh (Psalm 27:14).
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 8/17/10