Download or listen to the Funeral for Vi Welch (Revelation 21:1-7)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Family and friends of Vi, grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Yesterday, the Church entered the season of Advent. While the rest of the world rushes headlong into purchasing, parties, and presents, the Church waits. It’s not really that she’s waiting for Christ’s birth, since that happened a long time ago. But the Church waits in Advent in the same way she has waited for two thousand years and more, for the revealing of her Lord. Waiting is not something that comes naturally to us. We want everything now, and technology has come about as close as possible to realizing that goal. There is very little for which we have to wait, any more. But the Church still waits, and she waits because things are not as they should be.
That is obvious to us today. This is not how it should be. This casket should not be here. Vi’s body should not be in it. That is the universal and consistent proclamation of the Scriptures: death is an enemy and an intruder into the good creation of God. This is not how it should be. But we are here in defiance of death. We are here to mock death with the promise of God in Jesus Christ. Death can try its hardest, can land as many blows as it wants; death can reach back into life and take our bodies and our minds, our movement and our speech. But death will never have the last word. Not over Vi and not over you; not over those whom Jesus Christ Himself has claimed. Though I didn’t have the opportunity to get to know Vi as well as I would have liked (we will have eternity for that), I did have what might be the greatest privilege a pastor can have in this world: to deliver Jesus’ body and blood into her mouth the Friday before she died. The hope of the resurrection of the body is bound up with Jesus’ own resurrected body, and since none of us knows when our final hour will come, we can be prepared in no better way than by hearing Jesus’ word of mercy to us, and by receiving from Him His living body and blood. If you eat and drink Jesus, and if He is risen from the dead never to die again, then death can do nothing to us but take us out of this world of sin and death. Because of Jesus’ death, our death is the tool of God to bring us to the resurrection. In fact, long before most of us die, God says we have already died with Christ in baptism. When Vi was baptized, she was wrapped up in Jesus, clothed with Christ, buried in His grave. Her life, from then on, was hidden with Christ in God. But Jesus’ grave is empty! And when Christ, who is your life and Vi’s, when He appears, then He will transform our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body.
So we mock death, because we know that Christ is the life of all the living; He is the death of death our foe. One early Christian, Athanasius, said it this way: “All the disciples of Christ despise death; they take the offensive against it and, instead of fearing it, by the sign of the cross and by faith in Christ trample on it as on something dead… [N]ow that the Savior has raised His body, death is no longer terrible, but all those who believe in Christ tread it underfoot as nothing, and prefer to die rather than to deny their faith in Christ, knowing full well that when they die they do not perish, but live indeed, and become incorruptible through the resurrection… Death has become like a tyrant who has been completely conquered by the legitimate monarch; bound hand and foot the passers-by sneer at him, hitting him and abusing him, no longer afraid of his cruelty and rage, because of the king who has conquered him. So has death been conquered and branded for what it is by the Savior on the cross. It is bound hand and foot, all who are in Christ trample it as they pass and as witnesses to Him deride it, scoffing and saying, ‘O Death, where is thy victory? O Grave, where is thy sting?’” (On the Incarnation of the Word, V:27).
We have this promise, and it is unshakeable because it is from the mouth of Jesus. But still we wait, until faith gives way to sight, and John’s vision in Revelation 21 becomes ours: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’” It is in that hope that those who have fallen asleep in Christ wait, and the whole Church on earth waits with them. Advent teaches us to wait patiently for the day when we will be reunited with Vi and all those who have gone ahead of us into the presence of Jesus. With them we know that our waiting will end in renewed bodies free from damage to body and mind, and a new creation free from corruption and decay. Today, especially, we pray with renewed longing, “Come quickly Lord Jesus!” Yes, He says, I am coming soon.
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, 11/30/13