Download or listen to The Funeral of Bobbie Miller, “I Will Give You Rest” (Matthew 11:25-30)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Family and friends of Bobbie, grace to you and peace from God the Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I know this is a bittersweet day for you, Barbara; it is sweet since today would have been your fiftieth wedding anniversary. The blessings of the Lord in your life together have obviously been many and varied, and I know you thank God for everything and everyone who has been part of your life. But this day is bitter because of the separation that death has caused. Bitterness and sweetness are woven together throughout life in this world. We cannot avoid bitterness and have only sweetness. The curse of sin in this creation runs too deep. Open up the memories of those 50 years and no doubt you’d find enough of both the bitter and the sweet.
In the Gospels, it’s clear that bitterness is not foreign to Jesus. In the Gospel of John, Jesus weeps at the grave of His friend, Lazarus. In the Gospel of Matthew, right before the passage we heard a minute ago, Jesus speaks woe and judgment on the cities that refused to hear Him and refused repentance. He doesn’t do this because He enjoys handing out condemnation, but because what He describes is simply the reality for those who refuse to hear Him. He grieves and laments over those who refuse to come to Him for life, since He is all the life there is. Everything outside Him is, in the end, darkness and despair: a bitterness that has no end. But still He calls: come to Me, all who are toiling and working hard, who have been burdened with the weight of living in this world. I know Bobbie worked hard, in the Navy, as a fireman. But this is about more than just hard work; it’s about the nature of life in a world where sin corrupts and destroys relationships. It’s about working and working and working, and wondering whether it’s all for nothing. It’s about laboring under the weight of sickness and the weakening of bodies. It’s about the undeniable fact that the burden of life ends in the bitterness of death.
In the midst of all this, Jesus calls to you just as He called to Bobbie: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” His yoke is easy and His burden is light on you, because He takes all the weight of sin and death and empty toil and exchanges it for His life and peace and labor in Him, which is not in vain. Jesus knew death, far more bitter than any of ours, since He labored under the weight of your sin and mine. Jesus took the heavy burden of the curse of creation, and all that’s left for Bobbie and you is the sweet promise of the resurrection. “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17). What we see looks like all there is, but faith in Christ holds to the unseen, eternal gift of a creation made new. In Christ, the Land of Israel’s Promise has its fulfillment. As God said to His people through Joshua: “I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant” (Joshua 24:13). Whatever sweetness we have in the midst of this bitterness is all gift, purely out of God’s fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any deserving in us at all. And still there’s more: He sends His Son to redeem even the bitterness and bring the weary to Himself: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out…No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:37, 44). Until the day when the bitter gives way to the sweet, the dead are raised, and bodies are made right within a new creation, we have this promise: that God reveals His love in Jesus not to those who have it all worked out, who have done everything themselves, who have pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps; but that He has revealed Himself to the little children: to the empty, the helpless, those to whom all the things of God must be given, because they cannot be earned.
This is a bitter day, because death seems to have the last word. But we know that the dead who die in the Lord are blessed. Bobbie’s body rests now, while his soul waits for the resurrection of the body. In Christ, all His sin is gone, and his labor—in his job, in his family—is not in vain. The Jesus who did not stay dead, who lives forever, will never leave any of His own in their graves. He put His own Name on Bobbie when He baptized him, and He says, “I will raise him up on the last day.” He who is the resurrection and the life will have the last word, for Bobbie and for you: the word of the sweet and joyful marriage feast of the Lamb, in His Kingdom which has no end.
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, 6/25/14