In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Family and friends of Alfy, especially Judith, Tanjia, Marvin, Wayne, Yvonne, and Betty: grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. That same Jesus says to all those who are weary and heavy-laden: Come to Me, and I will give you rest. After a long struggle with various ailments and afflictions, the Lord did what He promised, and He gave Alfy rest. We are grateful that his suffering was not prolonged any more. But that sense of relief does not remove the painful separation that we feel at the death of a loved one, a separation that seems final to us. What could be more final than death? So today we also need rest for our souls. We also need some word of comfort today and for the days to come. But shall we simply cling to good memories in the past? Shall we settle for cliches about being in a better place, and the cessation of suffering? No, we need more than the past, and more than an afterlife that can go no further than our imaginations. Is there a word, a truth, a concrete reality, more final than the reality and the truth that has brought us here this afternoon?
Chapter 8 of Romans is divided between, on the one hand, this present reality as we experience it, with all of its heartache, all of its sickness and disease, and all of its death; and, on the other hand, the promised reality in Christ. Which one will we believe today? What our eyes can see, or what God Himself has spoken? This present reality is full of groaning: even creation itself groans as it waits for the revealing of the sons of God as God has remade them in Jesus. And we groan as well, because we do not yet see, feel, experience, and hold in our hands what is promised. What is promised remains in the realm of hope. Paul speaks of our present sufferings, and of our weakness, and of tribulation, and distress. These we know well. But Paul proclaims to us the only answer that can possibly be adequate to deal with all of it: God’s love in Jesus Christ. That love is not a feeling, not a sentiment, not a pleasant disposition toward us. It is an action that takes on real flesh and blood, and He enters this groaning creation and groans Himself under the entire weight of our present sufferings, and—above all—who experiences the redemption of His body on the third day after His death. And it is from that real, flesh-and-blood love of God that Paul says that we cannot be separated. He says that there is nothing in all creation, nothing that we have ever experienced or will experience, nothing that Alfy ever experienced, that can separate us from God’s love in Christ. And that includes death, Alfy’s or ours. Death cannot separate us from God’s love in Jesus because Jesus is risen from the dead. He has come out of death safely on the other side, which we have never yet seen, and He cannot die anymore. And He says that all those who belong to Him, who are joined to Him by faith in His Words, will follow where He has gone. Jesus put His Name on Alfy when he was baptized and claimed Alfy for His own. But that was only the beginning. He sustained him through his almost 83 years, granting great blessings to him—especially family and friends—but keeping him through the difficult times as well, including the struggles of the past few years. And He kept him until the day when He granted him rest from his labors. But that’s not all, even that is not the end. The full hope in which Alfy was saved is the redemption of his body, which will reveal, finally, the reality of God’s adoption of Alfy as His son. When that day comes, and the groaning of all creation, including our groaning in pain, in sickness, in sin, and in mourning, is done; when the coming glory is revealed at last; when we see all God’s holy ones in their full glory, conformed to the image of Christ; and when we see everything that we have now only by faith in the promise of God—on that day, Jesus will finish what He started in His own resurrection—and what He started in Alfy’s baptism—and He will call Alfy and every one of His own out of their graves.
So today and every day, this is the only word that will finally sustain us in both life and in death: Jesus Christ is risen from the dead; I know that my Redeemer lives, chief of sinners though I be. That is not just a word to make us feel better or to numb the pain: it is the promise of the living Lord Himself that He will make right what sin and death—even our own sin and death—have made wrong. He will set this creation right. And He will set us right, in both body and soul. And because Jesus has overcome all things, because He has victory over death itself in His own death and resurrection, then we have the certainty that no other word can give: I am fully convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. The Lord Jesus, who is the Resurrection and the Life, grant you rest in Himself for your weary and burdened bodies and souls, today and always.
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, 3/11/16