Download or listen to the Memorial Service for Aaron Dempsey, “I Myself Will Raise Him Up” (John 6:27-40)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Family and friends of Aaron: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Savior, Jesus Christ! That’s why we’re here: to hear and receive again a word of grace—the free gift of life in Jesus Christ; and to hear and receive again a word of peace—the peace that this world cannot give and the peace that is beyond understanding. The same peace that Jesus gave to His disciples on the same night He was raised from the dead. A ghost cannot give real and lasting peace. An illusion cannot give real and lasting peace. A hallucination cannot give real and lasting peace. A pious fiction cannot give real and lasting peace. If you and I are to have peace today, it has to be the peace of a Jesus who is risen from the dead in a real, but glorified, body; who is ascended to the powerful and ever-present Hand of God; who will most certainly come again to raise the dead and welcome His own to see and experience for the first time the life that He has in His resurrected Body.
Jesus says to the Jews, to the crowds, to those who had been among the five thousand whom Jesus fed with five loaves of bread and two fish: “I myself will raise him up in the last day.” I will raise up the one whom the Father has given to the Son; the one who, because he was given to the Son, will certainly come to the Son; the one who sees Jesus for who He is, and believes Him. That one has eternal life as soon as He has Jesus. Because Jesus and life cannot be separated. You have Jesus, you have life. No Jesus, no life. I am the life, Jesus says. Not just “I give life.” Not only “I can show you where to find some life.” “I am the life.” Jesus and life cannot be separated.
People talk a lot about life, about “quality of life,” about what makes a good life, or what makes life worth living. A lot of people are putting all their work into obtaining food that perishes with the eating of it. From what I’ve heard, Aaron didn’t always have things the easiest. I don’t know what people would say about his quality of life. But I’m not sure I’d trust “people,” either. Because a lot of people who would have trouble putting their cats or dogs out of their misery would not have any problem putting their grandmothers out of theirs. The people of God in Jesus Christ do not define real life by what a person experiences, what a person can explain intellectually, how long a life is, or its quality by some arbitrary emotional standard. We define real life simply and solely by a person’s incorporation into Jesus. “Incorporation” means, literally, putting into a body. And, without a doubt, Aaron had been incorporated: put into the Body of Jesus Christ. It may not have looked like much to a world that is used to defining life by how much you can put into your time on this earth. But to Jesus, the only definition of life that finally matters is whether you have Him, whether you live in Him and He lives in you. And He promised that the way you get put into Jesus is by being put into His Name: “Make disciples, by baptizing them into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” A little water and a few words, but Jesus doesn’t need too many words to do what He’s promised to do. A single word can cut down the devil; a single word can put death to flight; a single word forgives sins—as long as that word belongs to Jesus. I am the Bread of Life, He says. This is the bread for which you cannot work, but which He must give you. This food doesn’t perish with the eating; instead, the body that seems to be perishing is simply being prepared for eternal life. And whatever Aaron understood cognitively about the Supper, Jesus was preparing his body to be, one day, like Jesus’ own glorious Body. You are what you eat. You eat Jesus, in His never-ending life, it doesn’t really matter what your life or your body or your abilities look like on the outside; because Jesus is renewing you day by day to be transformed—at the last trumpet, when Jesus comes to wake up all these old, tired, difficult, frustrating bodies. The one who sits on the throne says, “Look! I am making all things new.” Now. I am the bread of life. I am the resurrection and the life. I am with you all the days until the completion of this age. Jesus does the will of His Father who sent Him, and that will is that He lose nothing that the Father has given Him, but, He says, I will raise it up on the last day. The one seeing Jesus by faith now is the one of whom Jesus says, that one will see me with new eyes on the last day, when I Myself will raise Him up. That “myself” is completely unnecessary. The Greek verb for “raise up” includes the “I will.” But Jesus adds an extra “I” into the sentence, which makes it all the more emphatic: “I Myself.” Just in case you have any doubt, just in case the flame of your faith flickers, or your heart wavers, hear again Jesus’ promise to Aaron and all those who have been baptized into His Name and believe His promises: I Myself will raise him up. Jesus wants you to be sure that He takes death personally. He took it personally on the cross. And do you think He’s going to let death have the last word now, after all that? Not a chance. I Myself will see to it, He says. No doubt about it. I am life itself; Jesus and life cannot be separated; Aaron was joined to Jesus; therefore, Aaron cannot be separated from life, even if death seems to have come between Aaron and us. No: nothing in all creation, not even death itself, can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. And if Aaron is joined to Jesus and you are joined to Jesus, then neither are you separated from Aaron—until the day when you are reunited in a new creation, where death has no place. Then, death and everything that belongs to it—mourning, crying, pain, bodies and minds that don’t work the way they’re supposed to—all of it will be banished forever, and there will be only life, because there will be only Jesus and His Father and the Spirit, and all who belong to that one God. In that hope and that promise, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
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, 2/17/14