“A Time to Die and a Time to Rise Again”
Matthew 11:2-15; Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In the Church year, we are near to the end of the season of Advent, which is when we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ and also when we learn to wait for the Second Coming of Christ. And, at first, that may seem to be completely unrelated to why we are here. After all, what does Advent have to do with a funeral? More than you might think. The last time I visited Connie before she went into the hospital, I shared with her this part of the Gospel of Matthew, about John and Jesus. At this point, John is sitting in Herod’s prison, which he would not leave in this life. Jesus is doing the things He came to do: healing the blind, lame, deaf, lepers, raising the dead, and proclaiming to anyone who would hear Him that the Reign of God has come in His very flesh—our flesh. Jesus fulfills every prophecy—indeed, every word—of God. But John is confused because it seems as if not much has changed: he’s still in prison, people still get sick and suffer, and people still die. And now we’re coming closer, because we live in pretty much the same dying world that John lived in. Other than advances in technology, comfort, and ease of transportation, the means and methods of man’s sinning have not changed, nor have their consequences. People are still imprisoned, whether within literal steel and concrete, or mental or physical prisons, as Connie knew all too well. People still get sick and suffer. People still die. There may be a time for laughing, but this is a time for weeping; there may be a time for dancing, but this is a time for mourning. This was Connie’s time to die, just as the Lord granted her a time to be born. These are things that all people observe and cannot avoid. But the question that we cannot avoid, just as John could not avoid it, is, “Are You the Coming One, or should we look for another?” Is Jesus really the Messiah? Is He really the One who came to put an end to sin, death, and the devil? Why do we still sit in prisons of loss and loneliness, prisons of wheelchairs and hospital beds, prisons of memory and experience? Jesus, are You the Coming One, or should we look for another?
Let me tell you what I have seen and heard. I have heard that on a silent and holy night God was born as a baby from the womb of a Virgin; that He grew into a Man who made the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, and lepers clean; I have heard that He raised the dead, and that He proclaimed the good news of the Reign of God to the poor, the empty-handed beggars, who have nothing to offer God—the same good news that is proclaimed to you today. I have seen the young and old ushered into the Kingdom by Jesus, using a little bit of water. I have seen Jesus forgive sins by a single Word, and by giving people His Body and Blood in a little bread and a little wine. By the same water of Baptism, Jesus brought Connie under His Reign on July 16, 1944. I heard her confess that she trusted Jesus to forgive all her sins; but her salvation and ours is not secured by the words we speak. It depends on one thing only: if any of us makes it into heaven on the way to the Resurrection of our bodies, it depends only on Jesus’ death and resurrection, which we trust is for Connie, and for you, and for me.
In this time when we are confronted with death, which is the consequence of sin; in this time when we mourn and weep, there is only one answer to the casket and the grave, and it is the same answer that Jesus gave to John: every healing of people’s bodies, every word He spoke to heal their souls—they were all signs that no one who has been joined to Jesus by baptism and faith (Mark 16:16) can stay dead or sick or suffering. He has died and risen again, and He cannot die again. So it is for Connie, and so it will be for you: if you have been joined to Jesus by baptismal death and resurrection, if you trust Jesus only for the forgiveness of everything you’ve done and everything you are, then death is already over and done with; the time for dying is completed in baptism. All that’s left for John the Baptizer, all that’s left for Connie, all that’s left for you and me is the time for resurrection—and that promise is as sure as Jesus’ empty grave. And the ones who have been blessed with that Faith will never fall away, but will look with trust and hope to the final Day, when all death and mourning and weeping will be removed from the creation forever. Until then, God’s people pray, as they always have: Come quickly, Lord Jesus, and raise us up to live with you forever; “For you are the Father’s Son who in flesh the victory won. By your mighty pow’r make whole all our ills of flesh and soul” (LSB 332:6).
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, 12/15/10