Download or listen to The Funeral of Victoria Wilken, “Grave Robber” (Matthew 27:57-66)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Family and friends of Victoria: grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Savior, Jesus Christ. It was a Friday afternoon when Joseph asked to bury the body. And the governor gave permission. Joseph wrapped the body in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own, new grave. No rock needed; He was dead. It wasn’t until the next day that the leaders of Israel convinced Pilate to put a stone in front of the tomb, “lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” It was a Saturday, the Sabbath day, when the Pharisees and the chief priests sealed the tomb and placed a guard. They, who did not want Jesus healing on the Sabbath, were willing to work to seal His grave. But nevermind; they were victorious now. As Pilate had allowed Joseph to bury His body, he allows the leaders of Israel to secure His grave the best they knew how. They were focused on the power of the disciples, what the disciples might do, what they might steal. But they did not know or believe the power of God: what He can do, what He can steal.
What is the largest stone to the one who made everything in creation? What are graves to Him who is the Life? There is no seal, there is no rock, there is no guard, there is no tomb that can hold Him. But those guards did not need to worry on that Saturday. Because the Lord was resting. It was the Sabbath, after all. Perhaps you think that sounds strange: that the eternal Son of God, who entered flesh exactly like yours and mine and Victoria’s, would rest. But God rarely does a new thing. The Scriptures already tell us what Jesus is going to do, before He does it. He said it Himself: all the Scriptures speak of Me (John 5:39; Luke 24:24-27, 44). So, in the First Act of Creation, on the seventh day, “God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation” (Genesis 2:2-3). And in the Second Act of the New Creation, God finishes His work on the cross and rests from all the work He has done for your salvation.
This is a holy day, this seventh day. On it, Jesus fulfilled the eternal Sabbath day, and proved Himself Lord of the Sabbath and Lord of all creation. And when His rest was done, on the eighth day, the first day of the new creation, He rose from the dead. He was raised in His own physical, crucified Body. The same, yet different. A body, but new with the powerful resurrection of God. The same body, but a new creation, begun once and continuing ever after. If this rest and this resurrection had not happened, we would have no hope, neither for Victoria nor for ourselves. But we, beloved, do not mourn and grieve like those who have no hope. We do mourn, and we do grieve. Death does not belong here, in this creation. It is foreign, it is an enemy, it is an intruder. Death followed sin into the original creation, like a serpent’s tale follows its head into a small tear in fabric. Adam and Eve tore the fabric of God’s good creation, and death entered, as God had said it would. But the Creator does not sit back and let the enemy take what belongs to Him. He comes to steal from death what, by rights, belongs to it. Death is indeed the wages of sin, and we cannot break that contract. Only a sinless man who was also Life itself could break it; but He broke the agreement between us and death by entering His life as payment for the eternal debt we owe. Death always pays out what is owed; the Law always makes a perfect accusation. The sinner stands accused, and death always comes for the sinner. So Jesus came in the likeness of sinful flesh, took the accusation against Himself, and became sin to nail sin and death to the cross.
And then what was left for the grave to hold? What were those guards really guarding? The grave no longer held the Body of Jesus; it was full, instead, of sin and death—yours, mine, Victoria’s, the whole world’s. He laid Himself in the tomb of every sinner, and then laid you in His tomb. On May 21, 1916, Jesus put Victoria in His own grave. Her whole life, even when her mind caused her to relive some of it during the last few years, was lived under the promise of God in her baptism, begun once and continuing ever after. Whoever has been baptized has been buried with Christ. Because Christ died for her, she died already 96 years ago. Though her physical death last Sunday has the feeling of finality, as far as God is concerned it is anti-climactic. Her death was accomplished a long time ago, already on the cross, and her grave was filled, already on that Sabbath. So this death is about as serious as sleep; if graves and guards and stones couldn’t keep Jesus dead, this casket and her grave are nothing. God’s power is resurrection, and He has already stolen Victoria from death, her enemy. He has already robbed her grave of any final word. Now, on this seventh day, her body rests, as her soul lives in the crucified arms of her Lord. Now she rests, but on that final eighth day, that great resurrection day, she will rise. She will rise and live in the new creation, as certainly as Jesus’ body is no longer in Joseph’s tomb. Jesus always gets the last word when it comes to His holy ones.
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, 3/26/13