“Jesus Lives! The Victory’s Won!”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I am in sort of a strange position: to be the grandson, and yet to act as a pastor speaking the Word of Jesus to my parents, aunts and uncles, and grandmother. Frankly, most of you have spent more time in conversation with my grandfather than I did, and knew him better as a person than I did. I remember the many times we drove down Maier Lane in Albany, especially on the days right after so many Christmases; I remember, maybe more from the photographs than from actual memory, riding horses in Albany; I remember stopping in Joseph with Tennille on our way to the seminary in St. Louis; and my favorite memory is the time a few years ago when we spent two days hauling in trout in hills not far from here. But it’s all a little hazy in my mind. I don’t remember him being much of a talker. I have a feeling he would be uncomfortable with me talking about him too much, anyway.
It is good for us to flip through the pages of our minds and bring out memories, dust them off, and hold them up to the light again; to laugh, cry, and remember. But as we do that, we are still confronted with a single, stark fact that cannot be denied or covered up by all our good memories and sympathetic words: that fact is that we are confronted today with a casket and a gravestone and a dark place in the cold ground. As much as we will celebrate and remember Jim’s life, we cannot forget that we are here because of his death. And that is something that, no matter how hard we try, we cannot overcome for ourselves. Every sinner dies, and there has never been a single exception to that rule. As grateful as we are for the mercy of God, that Jim was spared any more suffering, we cannot confuse that mercy for the lie that death is good. It is not. It is, as St. Paul reminds us today, an enemy to be conquered. Death is an alien intrusion in God’s good creation, violently separating the body and soul that God joined together.
But death would not be the last defiant word in the face of the God who spoke life into existence. No doubt it looked that way for Adam. It looks that way now for Jim. And, remember, it looked that way for Jesus. What word can possibly trump the finality of the word, “He has died”? Only one: “He has risen! He has risen, indeed! Alleluia!” If not for that word, we would mourn as the hopeless, who, like the grass of the earth, are here today and fly away with the wind tomorrow. If not for that word, our entire faith, every bit of it, would be empty and useless. You can find morality elsewhere. You can find good examples in the world. You can find health, wealth, and prosperity being preached on dozens of TV channels. But that is all bread that perishes; and those who eat it will perish with it. What you can find nowhere else is the word of resurrection that trumps this word of death. Only in Jesus do we have the bread of life; only He gives life in the midst of this world of death. He is the true bread from heaven; only He can give Himself to you; and He alone will sustain you into eternal life. Jesus says: The will of God is that I lose none of those whom He gave me, but raise it up on the last day (John 6:39). Jesus says: The one who sees the Son and trusts Him alone, I will raise up on the last day (John 6:40). Jesus says: The one eating My flesh and drinking My blood has life eternal, and I will raise him on the last day (John 6:54). Jesus joined Jim to Himself on July 5, 1926; on that day, Jesus gave Him the bread of life by joining him to His own cross and raising him in His own resurrection. Jesus fed him for 84 years with the bread of heaven that gives life to the world, every time Jim heard the absolution of his Lord. Jesus gave His own flesh and blood into Jim’s hands and mouth so that last week Jim could say with Simeon: “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace according to Your Word, for my own eyes have seen your salvation, which You have prepared in the sight of all peoples; a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of Your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32). Jesus does not lose the ones whom the Father has given Him, and He did not lose my grandfather. And because he received and ate and was nourished with the true bread from heaven, there is no doubt that Jesus will raise Jim and the bodies of all His own on the last day. Who could stay dead with the living Bread of heaven, Jesus crucified and resurrected, inside him? On my grandfather’s birthday, June 16, is also celebrated the feast day of two saints of whom you’ve probably never heard, St. Julitta and her three-year old son Cyr. Under the persecution of the Roman emperor Diocletian the mother and child were arrested and asked who they were, where they were from, etc. Julitta would only answer, to every question, “I am a Christian.” When the governor took Cyr from his mother’s arms, she shouted even louder, “I am a Christian,” and Cyr, as children do, imitated his mother, saying as loud as he could, “I am a Christian.” For this confession, they were both martyred (http://www.bartleby.com/210/6/161.html). What an example for us! To live and to die with no other identity than the Name of Christ! Outside of this, what do any of us have? Outside of this, to what can you cling in the hour of your death? The Name of Jesus, which He shares with His Father and the Holy Spirit, is eternal and the one on whom He puts it and to whom He grants faith “will not come into judgment, but has [already] passed from death into life” (John 5:24). Jesus does not forget His own; He will not forget the bodies of His own; He will not forget Jim, and He will not forget you. Even now, Jim’s soul waits with Jesus for the great Easter day when Jesus will come with a shout and a trumpet blast; with angels and archangels and “raise up me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true” (Luther, Small Catechism, Third Article). “Jesus lives! The vict’ry’s won! Death no longer can appall me; Jesus lives! Death’s reign is done! From the grave will Christ recall me. Brighter scenes will then commence; This shall be my confidence” (LSB 490:1). It was my grandfather’s confidence. I pray it is yours.
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, 2/5/11