Download or listen to the Funeral of Vern Cormican: “Victory” (1 Corinthians 15:50-58)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Family and friends of Vern, the peace of God and the love of our Lord Jesus Christ and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you today. This is one of the holiest days in the entire calendar of the Church. Good Friday, we call it. It is the day when we remember Jesus’ death on the cross for all sinners, and so this is a fitting day for you to bury your beloved father, grandfather, great-grandfather—even great-great-grandfather—and whatever other relationship you might have had with Vern. But it is fitting not only because this is the day when we remember Jesus’ death; it is, more than that, the day when we remember Jesus’ victory over death. That might seem strange, since from everything we see, from every picture or statue of the crucifixion, it looks like Jesus is defeated. It looks as if He has become a helpless victim of a corrupt religious or political system. It looks like this world and the consequences of living in it have overcome Jesus, just as they overcome every other person. But what we can see is not all there is.
When Jesus is on the cross, He is not only helpless, attached by nails to wood; He is also willingly taking on your flesh in order to die. He knew that His death was the way that He would take your sins on Himself, and He never backed away from it, as the obedient Son of His Father. When Jesus is hanging on the cross, He is not only a victim—of politics, cowardice, envy, etc.–He is also the Victim: the eternal sacrifice for Vern’s sins, and your sins, and the sins of the whole world. But even more, He is not only Victim, He is Victor. Many icons of Jesus have two Greek words on them: Iesous Nika. Jesus is victorious, or Jesus is conquering. This is true because He is risen from the dead, to be sure. But it is true also on the cross, His arms spread in victory, as He swallows up sin and death and evil.
And that is what matters for you today. Because the way things look, death has had the last word. The way things look, death is victorious over Vern, as it will be over you and me. But what we can see is not all there is. As St. Paul wrote to the congregations in Corinth: “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). All of this, as we realize more and more, is disintegrating, dissolving, disappearing. “Change and decay in all around I see.” But the “change and decay” go further than life and relationships and material things: Paul is talking about death itself. We see the transient things, we see death, but these things are not all there is. There are unseen things that are eternal. Death is the way of this world, because sin is the way of this world. But even though you mourn today—and it is right that you do so, because death is the enemy of God’s creation—there is an eternal weight of glory prepared for those who die in Christ. “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” (1 Corinthians 15:53-57).
Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and only because of Him, we hold out certain hope for the eternal victory over death in our bodies. That is why we pray, “Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes.” That is why I pointed Vern to the crucifix on his wall at the nursing home. So that whatever else went through his mind in those last hours—no doubt thoughts of all of you, whom he loved—the one thing that means life for Vern and for all those who believe is the death of Jesus. “I fear no foe with Thee at hand to bless; ills have no weight and tears no bitterness. Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory? I triumph still if Thou abide with me!” Have no doubt, Jesus, the victorious one, remained with Vern throughout his 92 years: Jesus wrote His own Name on Vern in Baptism, forgave his sins because of the cross, and fed him with His own resurrected and glorified Body and Blood. This was Vern’s hope and confidence, and I pray it is yours also, on this Good Friday and always. As one early Christian prayed, so we pray: “Be Thou my consolation, my shield, when I must die; remind me of Thy passion when my last hour draws nigh. Mine eyes shall then behold Thee, upon Thy cross shall dwell; my heart by faith enfold Thee. Who dieth thus dies well” (St. Bernard of Clairvaux, “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded,” LSB 450).
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, 4/4/12