[Pat was my grandmother; the funeral was in Enterprise, OR]
Download or listen to “Firstborn from the Dead” (Colossians 1:18).
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Grace to you and peace from God the 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. Almost three years ago, we were here in this same place, mourning the death of my grandfather. But it felt different. Then, my family was gathered in their house in Joseph, talking and laughing and remembering. This time, that house is empty and we are in a hotel. I, at least, have no more physical connection with Joseph. But more than that, Pat was my last living grandparent. That generation of my family, at least of direct ancestors, is now cut off from me, as it is from you. It’s sort of like being set adrift. Connections have been cut, and it’s something unlike anything else I have experienced. That, in itself, would be enough to mourn—if we mourned as others do, who have no hope. Yes, we are separated from loved ones for a time. Yes, we grieve, and it is not wrong to do so, since death is a foreign invader into the good creation of God. Death is, as Paul tells us, the last enemy to be defeated, and it will indeed be conquered once and for all when we are given the new bodies of the resurrection; when our lowly bodies are transformed to be like Christ’s glorious body, then we will see what we know now only by faith: death has been put to death. Death is not “natural,” in the sense that it belongs in God’s creation. But it is more than natural to us; what do we see besides death? “Change and decay in all around I see.” If we are honest, we know that death sets in as soon as we are born. So we mourn and grieve.
But today we have heard the promise of Christ through the words of Paul. And that promise is that even though we see and feel a separation that seems final—what is more final to us than death?—we are not really separated at all from our loved ones who have died in the faith. As Jesus said to the Sadducees, “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” To Him, those who have died in the faith are certainly alive, as they wait with us for the resurrection of their bodies. So if they are in Christ and we are in Christ, how can we be separated from each other? In fact, since they are now free from sin, perhaps we are closer than ever. We are all in Christ, who is, in His flesh, the firstborn of creation. By Him all things were created, through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He was the firstborn of all creation in His flesh, and He is also the firstborn from the dead. Since He has made peace between you and God by the blood of His cross, you cannot be separated from Him or from those who belong to Him. Nothing in this creation, nothing past or present or future; nothing at all, not even death, can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord. And that means that, finally, nothing can separate us from Pat, nothing can separate us from each other. This is a bond that holds us much tighter than genealogy or blood. We already know the bonds of family can be broken, both by us as we damage and destroy our relationships with each other, and by death as it separates us from each other. But for those who are called by the holy Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, water is thicker than blood, because our baptism joins us to Christ and to each other. While we cannot hold on to each other forever in this world, in Christ all things hold together both now and for eternity.
In that promise there is hope both for Pat and for us. When she struggled with the affliction of ALS, and she grew weaker and weaker, Christ did not. The word of Christ is as true for us as it was for Paul: My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). It is true for us because it was true for Christ Himself, hanging suspended on the cross. What position could be more weak, more helpless? But God’s power was shown there as Christ suffered the eternal judgment of God on all sin and sinners. And when Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, death was robbed of all its strength. Death still puts up a good fight, as it throws blow after blow against us in disease and sickness and suffering. But it has no power over those who have already died with Christ. Pat’s body will be raised as certainly as Christ’s was. And yours also. Christ was the firstborn from the dead, but He will not be the last. For those whom God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. He predestined Pat, He called her, He justified her, and He glorified her in Christ. So if God is for us, even in the face of the overwhelming reality of sin and death, who or what can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also, with Christ, graciously give us all things? He is the Good Shepherd, and He knows those who are His. And when He comes, He will call us each by Name—the same Name He put on us in baptism—and we will hear Him and come out of our graves with joy to meet Him, along with Jim and Pat, and all the saints of God in Jesus Christ, through whom all things were created and in whom we are held together for all eternity.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 11/20/13