In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Friends and family of Joe: grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Where is life? Where is life, particularly in the face of the death of one whom we have loved? Is life only in the memories we have of the person? Is it only in our personal interactions with the person? Is it only in the past? Is life in the absence of pain and suffering, or only when minds are working the way they’re supposed to? Is life in its “quality,” and therefore dependent upon how we qualify what makes life worth living? These are the questions we either assume or have to answer when we are confronted with the end of life. But Jesus locates life in none of those places. He doesn’t even locate life in us. He locates life in Himself. “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself” (John 5:26). Because if life is primarily in us, then it comes to an end when we do. If life is primarily according to our definitions, then it will be primarily in the past, since we are currently in the present and we know nothing of our future existence in this creation. But for Joe, and for each Christian, life is in Christ. Life is in Christ because only in Him is it certain. Life is in Christ because only He has risen from the dead. But Paul says that Jesus is the “firstborn from the dead” (Colossians 1:18), meaning that He is the “firstborn of many brothers” (Romans 8:29) who will be raised from the dead. If Jesus is life, then all those who belong to Him have life. “Truly, truly,” Jesus says, “whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life” (John 5:24). And that life—Jesus’ life—is not enclosed by the boundary of death, because He is alive, never to die again. Joe heard that word, the Word of Jesus; he believed the Father had sent the Son; and Joe was clothed with Jesus when he was baptized into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. More than that, Jesus continued to give life to Joe’s mortal body, even as death drew near. Only a couple days before he died, I had the privilege of taking the Body and Blood of Jesus to Joe at home. That was his assurance, made certain by the promise of Jesus Himself, that the Lord would not forsake him, no matter what he experienced. Though his outer nature was passing away, as Paul put it, his inner nature was being renewed day by day by Jesus, who is the Resurrection and the Life. Jesus promises that whoever eats His flesh and drinks His blood has eternal life, and Jesus will raise him up on the last day. Just as He says here in John 5: “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (5:29).
But those who have done good and go to the resurrection of life are not those who have been good spouses, good siblings, good parents, good friends. Though I have no doubt that Joe was all those things, and though it is a great testimony to Joe’s character that you are all here today—wife, sister, children, friends—the greatest testimony that he could leave is that he had—and has—life in Christ. When it comes to the judgment of God, there is only one way to life: Jesus. The one who hears and believes Jesus does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.
In Christ, everything is shifted: life, time, death, and judgment. Life is shifted from us to Him, when we are crucified and buried with Jesus in baptism; time is shifted, because eternity has come now, ahead of time; death and judgment no longer apply in the way they once did, since Jesus took on Himself the wages of sin and the entire condemnation that we deserve. Joe passed from death to life long before his physical death, and so do all those who are baptized into Christ, believing His promises. The Good Shepherd who kept Joe safe on land and sea, will continue to keep him until He raises all the dead and gives eternal life to Joe and all believers in Christ. “Now no more can death appall, now no more the grave enthrall; [Christ] has opened paradise, and [His] saints in [Him] shall rise” (Lutheran Service Book 633:6). “Take comfort and rejoice, for His members Christ will cherish. Fear not, they will hear His voice; dying, they will never perish; for the very grave is stirred when the trumpet’s blast is heard” (LSB 741:6). So it will be for Joe on that last and great Day, and so it will be for all who know Jesus’ voice. Our life is hidden with Christ in God, but when Christ, who is our life, appears, then we, with Joe, will also appear with Him in glory. In Jesus is our life, in Him is our hope, and in Him is our comfort and peace in the midst of sorrow. May it ever be so for you, as it was for Joe.
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).
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 5/18/16