In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Friends and family of Rex, especially Taffi: grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Today, as in the past few weeks, we mourn—but not as those who have no hope. Today we grieve, and not without reason. Death has intervened where it does not belong. From the beginning, God made His creatures to live; death is an enemy that entered His good creation silently on the tail of the serpent. Though God in His mercy may allow death to come in the midst of suffering, which we view as a good thing, death itself is still an enemy—the last enemy to be destroyed, St. Paul tells us.
But even though the enemy, death, has been destroyed in fact and by faith, it is not yet destroyed in our experience. Though the promises are everywhere for those with eyes to see, the truth of them is not apparent to our eyes of flesh. In Psalm 34, we hear both the voice of experience and the voice of the unseen promise. We’re familiar with much of what the psalmist says: “This poor, afflicted man cried” and “I inquired of Yahweh,” which is the Name of God; we are well-acquainted with the ones crying for help in verses 15 and 18. We know the broken-hearted and the spirit-crushed; we feel the afflictions and the evils faced by the righteous of the Lord. It’s the second parts of those verses that we often do not see or experience: “He answered me; from all my fears He rescued me”; or “from all his distresses He saved him”; or the Messenger of Yahweh delivers him. It’s hard enough to hope in the promise in our daily struggles; but what do we do with the seemingly final grief of death? Let’s not minimize it or downplay its effects. Death is not okay, not just part of life, not something good. But the Psalm tells us what true Good is: Yahweh. Good is Yahweh; which is slightly different from saying Yahweh is good. Yes, He is, but the Psalmist literally says that the definition of Good is Yahweh. Taste and see! And the Hebrew doesn’t just say blessed is the man, but blessed is the strong or great man who takes shelter in Yahweh.
You all know how strong Rex was. You know his goodness to those he loved, how hopeful he was, how—at least with me, and at least in public—how he refused to say a negative or despairing word. Even so, his strength and goodness and hope were not his own. Blessed is the strong man who takes shelter in Yahweh. And that can only be true of Rex because the voice of the psalmist is the voice of Jesus Himself. St. John shows us the way: “But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs…these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken’” (John 19:36). This Psalm is not a manly exhortation to get up off your couch or hospital bed and start feeling better. It is a proclamation of Jesus Christ Himself. I doubt we can overstate the fact that apart from Jesus, we can never be sure that God hears or answers, saves, rescues, or delivers. Beloved in Christ, where did Rex find his answer? When he marked down Psalm 34:8 on a piece of paper—because he didn’t want to mark up his Bible—where did he taste and see the Goodness which is Yahweh? Where did he find his refuge and shelter, even in the midst of the raging storm of cancer? Only in Christ. And only in the Christ who Himself cried out to His Father, who Himself had the praise of God continually in His mouth. Only in Jesus, the true Strong Man, who entrusted His own body and soul to God. Jesus is the one who teaches us the true fear of Yahweh as He goes patiently to the cross and to His death for Rex and you and me; He kept His tongue from evil and His lips from every deceitful word; He sought your peace and your wholeness. The only reason that we are not found guilty, not condemned; the only reason we do not bear our own sin is because Jesus is our refuge and shelter. In His wounds, in His flesh and blood we find our eternal life. Yahweh is, very literally, near to the broken-hearted and the crushed in spirit: in the life-giving flesh that we eat and in the life-giving blood that we drink. Only because Jesus took refuge in His Father and the Father raised Him up on the third day can we find our eternal refuge.
So the water that flowed from the side of Jesus washed over Rex on November 27, 1949; so Rex ate and drank, having heard the promise that Jesus would raise him up on the last day. So Rex lived and died, having tasted and seen that Yahweh is Goodness itself, as God the Holy Spirit Himself sustained Rex’s faith. So Rex was blessed, and so are you and all who trust the Father of Jesus.
So it is, until that great and new beginning after the last night of this world. For now, Jesus, the full and final Messenger of Yahweh, encamps around us, near to the broken-hearted and the crushed in spirit, giving us living bread to eat, our holy food as we walk the way of this life. Between the resurrection begun in Jesus’ flesh and blood and unbroken bones and the resurrection completed finished on the day when He raises Rex and all His holy ones, our boast is only in Yahweh our God, and His praise alone in our mouths. On that brand new resurrection morning, we will finally see our God, along with Rex, and we will surely not be put to shame. Many, now, are the afflictions of those who belong to Jesus, but Yahweh delivers us from them all.
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, 8/19/15