In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Right up until the end, Mark was one of the strongest people I’ve met. Even the very last time I visited with him, his handshake was about as firm as that of any person I have ever shaken hands with. Probably from all those years of holding baseball bats or hockey sticks. As strong as he was, what St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4 was true of Mark as well: “our outer self is wasting away.” There was a moment at which Mark no longer had the strength to shake a pastor’s hand, or the strength to speak, or the strength to open his eyes. Eventually, his lungs and heart had no strength at all. Our outer natures waste away, no matter how strong we are. And that’s the problem, isn’t it? There is not a single thing that we can do, not a single thing that anyone can do; there is no heart, mind, body, hand so strong that death cannot bring a stillness to it. As much as we’d like to ignore it or pretend it doesn’t happen; as much as we’d like to focus on the good and the strong and the happy, life is not confined to those areas. And as good as it is for all of you—both today and in the future—to remember and reminisce and laugh and cry, for a moment we have another task. And that is to consider this word of God through the mouth of His servant Paul.
Our outer nature is wasting away. That is fairly obvious. Lines in our faces, pain in our backs, the deaths of those we love: these are the clear indicators that our bodies will eventually waste away. But Paul also says something that is not nearly so obvious: that the things we see are transient, passing away, coming to an end; but the things that we cannot see are eternal. Normally, we think of things exactly in the opposite way: the things we can see, those are the things that we think are eternal. Things that we can see, touch, experience with our senses. We think that such concrete things must go on and on. On the other hand, the things we cannot see seem to us to be only so much mist in the wind. If we can’t see or touch it, we’re not sure it exists at all, let alone that it might be eternal. But the Christian faith speaks not from what we can see and touch, but from what Jesus promises. So we believe, and so we speak: the God who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us into His presence. It is all for your sake, especially in this moment, confronted with the physical absence of such a strong person. The only reason that we have hope, the only reason that we do not lose heart, is because what we can see, and what we experience in our physical bodies, is not the only—or even the most important—reality. For the Christian, not only does the outer nature waste away in this world, but the inner nature is being renewed day by day, even in suffering and even in death. The inner nature, the inner self, is nothing other than the life of Jesus which the dying Christian has received. When Mark was baptized on March 12, 1995, God not only joined him to Jesus’ death, He also joined him to Jesus’ resurrection. If we have been united with Jesus in a death like His, Paul says, then we will certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His. So, Paul says, everyone who is baptized into the Name of God must consider themselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Dead to sin: the outer nature wastes away. Alive to God in Jesus: the inner nature is being renewed day by day.
This is what sustains the Christian: whatever comes, whatever happens to us in this world: this light, momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. We do not look at the things we can see and say, “That’s the last word about us.” We don’t look at death, and say, “That’s the end,” just because we see it happen. We look to the things we cannot see: the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. We wait for the day when God will finish the work He begins in baptism, by raising these bodies from the dust and earth, and giving them back to Mark and to us, whole and sinless and strong again. Death is transient; resurrection is eternal. It is all for your sake, today and always: Come to Me, Jesus says, all who labor, all who are burdened, all who are weighed down by living in this world. I will give you rest. Not only for this life, but for the day when your labor comes to an end, and your body rests in the ground. That is not the final word. That is not the end. The Jesus whose resurrection we are about to celebrate is the Jesus whose Name Mark’s body bears. He is the Jesus who refuses to leave in the ground any of His own. The unseen promise to which faith clings will soon become sight. Death will give way to life; tears will give way to joy; weakness will give way to strength, and we will say with Mark on that Day: Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, that He might save us. Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.
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, 3/19/15