Download or listen to The Funeral of Harley Maydole, “The Past and the Future” (Luke 24:36-49)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Family and friends of Harley, grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Sometimes we call what we are doing here today a “memorial service.” Which sounds kind of somber, so now they are often called “celebrations of life.” But the fact is, whatever we call it, the way we normally go about these sorts of things is all about the past. Which is perfectly okay: I know that you have all been sharing memories of Harley, and thinking about your life with him. Memories, celebrations, photographs, the past—these are all good things, and it is right that you should share them with each other, along with the laughter and the tears that accompany those memories. But we are not in this place primarily to remember the past. As good as those stories and memories are, they hold no hope for the future. And we who belong to the Church of Jesus Christ are bound up with a particular future that does indeed give us hope. It was only two days ago that the Church around the world celebrated the most significant event in the year—really, the most significant event in the whole history of this world. Because, as St. Paul says, the resurrection of Jesus makes, literally, all the difference in the world. “[I]f Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:17-19). Christ is not raised as a memory, as a significant story, as a feeling in our hearts. While the disciples were talking with the two who had seen Jesus on the road to Emmaus, “Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, ‘Peace to you!’ But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them” (Luke 24:36-43). No ghost, no spirit, no nice thought; but the actual, physical, very present Jesus Himself. So it is for the members of Christ’s Body: He is not in the distant past; He is not far away in the future. He is here with us, speaking His Word of forgiveness and life to us. He is here with us, feeding us His true Body and Blood, which I had the privilege of delivering to Harley and JoAnn a few times before his death. This is all about the future, because the future of the Church is the same as the future of Jesus. All those who belong to Jesus, who have been joined to Him as Harley was, by Holy Baptism, share the future of Jesus. And what is that? It is, simply, the resurrection. What happens to Jesus happens to those who belong to Jesus. And that future is as physical as hands and feet that can be touched, as physical as flesh and bone, as physical as eating a piece of fish. Everything that went wrong in this creation because of Adam’s sin and ours, all of the messes we make of our lives, our relationships, our bodies; all of the symptoms of death that reach back into our lives, like disease, and bodies that break down, and hearts that fail—all of that is why Jesus took on flesh, why He died, and why He rose again. Everything that goes wrong in our lives and our bodies and our souls, has been made right in Jesus’ life, and His body, and His soul. And so the future of Jesus in His very real and glorified body is the future of Harley and of all the members of Christ’s body.
It is good to remember the past, but it is the the future of Jesus that makes all our past, present, and future forever good. Though we have it now only by faith, it is the future that reaches back to here and now and fills us with life in the midst of death. It is the resurrection of Jesus, which He freely gave to Harley, that tells us that death will not have the last word. Jesus cannot die any more, and that means that Harley, who was baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection, and who ate and drank Jesus’ living Body and Blood, cannot die either. This is the hope of the future now, and it is the only hope for you and for this whole dying world. Thank God for the victory of Jesus Christ over sin and death! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!
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, 4/11/14