Download or listen to the Resurrection of Our Lord, “Remember What He Said,” (Luke 24:1-12)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Every sermon I have ever preached has been a funeral sermon. Because every funeral sermon, if it is a Christian funeral sermon, is a resurrection sermon. If not, what words can we say when there is a dead body and a casket staring us in the face? What words can give anything more than temporary and quickly passing comfort? What words can compete with the finality of death’s word? Sure, we could talk about how our loved ones are looking down on us from heaven; we could imagine what fun activities they are doing in heaven (playing golf, snowmobiling, fishing, hunting). But, besides the fact that that sounds like little more than an imaginary, ideal day—maybe a little better—what does it have to do with Jesus? What does it have to do with what Jesus has done in His body to defeat death? And besides that, how do we know any of it is true? Do we have a word from the Lord? And if we don’t, then it can’t be based on faith; and if it’s not from faith, St. Paul says it’s sin. Only the resurrection can speak a word that competes—actually, that conquers death. Because if Jesus is not raised from the dead, we are to be pitied more than all people. If Jesus is not raised from the dead, then you and I are still dead in our sins, and there is no heaven at all because Jesus is still dead. We must proclaim and declare the resurrection, or, really, what’s the point? If we don’t, we’re only engaging in pious make-believe.
Every sermon is a funeral sermon, because every sermon is a resurrection sermon. And that’s because every sermon is preached to the dead and the dying. We don’t like to believe it of ourselves, because we have such full lives—I mean, look how long our obituaries are getting—but the Scriptures tell us that we are either dead in our trespasses and sins, the walking dead, you might say (maybe popular culture is a little behind the curve on that one); or, you are dying in your physical body. Even if you don’t believe in original sin, that we are all conceived and born sinful, as David says in Psalm 51, even if you have a hard time with that, the evidence that we are dead in our sins is that everyone dies. “As in Adam all die,” Paul says. And all die because, as he says in another place, because all sin. You die because you sin, and since we all die, we must know that we have all sinned. You are dead and dying; and if every sermon is preached to the dead and the dying, it must be a resurrection sermon. Every sermon has to be preached as if we are looking over the lip of an open grave. What good, finally, will all those self-help sermons do you? What good will they do you when your finances are used to pay your funeral expenses, and death parts you from your spouse? They will be about as much good as making up things about people in heaven. If you are dead or dying, what can we say about that? What can we do about that? And if we can’t do anything about it, is there someone who has done something about it?
Well, when the women come to the tomb very early in the morning, they don’t see Jesus rising from the dead. They don’t expect that something has been done about death. They’re coming to finish the job that was started on Friday by Joseph and Nicodemus. They’ve come to finish the embalming. But when they come, they find an open tomb and two men standing there, and they are afraid enough to bow their faces to the ground. And one of the men says to them, “What are you doing here with those spices? Those are for dead people. But there’s no one dead in this tomb. Why are you looking for the living among the dead? That is, why are you looking for the Living One among the dead ones? He is not here, He is risen! Don’t you remember how He said to you, while you were all still in Galilee, that it is necessary for the Son of Man to be handed over into the hands of sinful men, and to suffer, and to die, and on the third day rise again? Don’t you remember?” And they remembered. They remembered His Words.
Why are you looking for the living among the dead? Well, Jesus is certainly not among the dead as one of them anymore. But the Living One is still among the dead. That’s why He came. Even though we don’t will, we don’t choose, to sin and so to die, Jesus does. Jesus does will it, He does choose it. Because the Living One, in Himself, cannot die. The eternal Son cannot die. So He chooses to be conceived in the womb of the virgin. He who cannot die chooses to take on flesh so that He can. He who has no sin becomes a man to die in the flesh marked by sin. He’s baptized into your sin, He carries your sin, He nails your sin to the cross. He takes it as if it were His own, all of it, so there’s no more sin to cause your death. And He does it knowing that on the third day He will rise, He will no longer be one of the dead bodies. And then the Living One goes among the dead and raising them to life: You, you, you, all of you. Yes, I know you’re dead, but I can do something about that. Don’t you remember what He said to you? “I baptize you in My Name: the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. You’re Mine. I will crucify you in My Body, and bury you in My grave, and raise you in My resurrection. Here, eat My living Body and drink My living Blood. See, you can’t die anymore. Don’t you remember what He said? I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in Me, even if He dies, he will live. And if he should be alive when I return, He will never die.
So this is the answer, to your death and to the deaths of your loved ones. It is the answer to everything that causes death. It is the answer to all the symptoms of death. When you are confronted with your own death, with decay in your flesh, because you are baptized you can say what millions of Christians all around the world say today: Alleluia! He is risen! And the response is, He is risen indeed! Alleluia! When you are at the grave of your family or friends: Alleluia! He is risen! … When you are undergoing dialysis, or chemotherapy, or a transplant: Alleluia! He is risen! … When your bones break, or your car dies, or your house burns down: Alleluia! He is risen! … When you cannot escape that one particular sin, when that same temptation comes around again and again and again, and you just want to lie down and give in: Alleluia! He is risen! ….When you lie down and when you get up, when you look at the world and how messed up it is and how it doesn’t look like this world is going anywhere but to hell: ALLELUIA! HE IS RISEN!… Because that word means that there is a new creation begun in Jesus’ own body, He has made a renewed heavens and earth. And we can be glad and rejoice forever in that which He has created. Remember what He said to you. Alleluia! He is risen.
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, 3/30/13