In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Family and friends of Phil, especially Betty: grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Paul, the apostle of Jesus, wants to make sure we know the truth about those who have fallen asleep in the Lord, so that we do not grieve as those do who have no hope. We do grieve. Whatever anyone might say about death, it will not make the fact any easier to deal with. We feel the separation and the pain. Death is an enemy that has entered into God’s good creation. It wasn’t meant to be like this. God is life. But death is the reminder that the sin of Adam and Eve, along with all we’ve added since, hasn’t gone away.
But though everyone mourns, not everyone mourns with hope. For some, death is the worst thing that can happen to a person. This life is all there is, they think, and so death—very literally—is the end. But Paul says that not only is physical death not the worst thing that can happen to you, it cannot speak the last word about those who are in Christ. Phil is in Christ. He was baptized into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. He heard the forgiveness of His Lord in that same Name. And in that Name he received the body and blood of Jesus as a seal and assurance that God would never leave him or forsake him. Phil knew he was in Christ. He heard it over and over, believed it, received Christ’s forgiveness and life.
So Paul says of people like Phil: because Jesus died and rose again, when we see Jesus, God will bring with Christ all those who have fallen asleep in Him. He calls it sleep because it’s as easy for Jesus to wake the dead as it is for you or I to wake up someone who is merely sleeping. When Jesus comes, He is going to come and wake all the dead and put body and soul back together again. When Jesus came to Lazarus’ grave, He said, “Lazarus! Come out!” And the dead man did. When He came to the house of a family mourning a twelve-year-old girl, Jesus asked them why they were crying. He said, “She’s not dead. She’s only asleep.” They laughed at Him, but He said, “Little girl, I say to you, get up.” And the dead girl did. When He came to the funeral procession just outside the town called Nain, He took the hand of the dead son and raised Him up.
But all those were just signs of what He will do on the last day, when He raises, first, all the dead, including Phil. And then whoever is alive will be transformed, and together we will all see the Lord together. We will go out of this old, dying creation to meet Him, and He will restore His creation. There will be a new earth under a new heavens. And that is where we will always be with the Lord.
Paul says, “Encourage one another with these words.” Why? Because this is the only answer that can deal with the grief we feel today and whenever those we love die. If our bodies are not what they should be; if we experience pain and suffering; if our eyes or our ears or minds don’t work the way they should; the answer is not that we will escape these bodies and be only souls. The answer is in Jesus’ own resurrection. When He rose on that third day, He met His disciples in His own, real, physical body. He had flesh and bone and blood. And Paul says that when we see Him, He will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body. In His own resurrection, Jesus gives a promise that goes far beyond simply dying and going to heaven. He says that all things will be made right. All things: our bodies, our minds, our world, and everything in it. Everything that doesn’t belong in God’s good creation—sin, death, hospitals, grieving, sickness, blindness—all of it will be removed and all things will be made new. God cares about our bodies; He cares about Phil’s body, not just his soul; that’s why Jesus is born, lives, dies, and is raised in a real human body. He loves His creation, and He means for it to be fully good again.
It is from that knowledge that Phil’s confidence came. I never heard him say a negative word. In all the times I saw him here, or saw him at home, he was never down or upset that I saw. I particularly appreciated reading the article about him returning to teaching after he lost his sight. He knew that—no matter what—His Lord had not forgotten or forsaken Him. He knew that Jesus fed him with His very own eternal life. And Phil fell asleep in the peace and hope that are in Jesus, who was the first to die and rise. Now Phil waits with His Lord for the day when all things will be made right, including Phil’s body. And we wait, too, with the same prayer on our lips: come quickly, Lord Jesus, and restore all things! Encourage one another with these words, today and going forward. This hope is grounded not in nice thoughts or pious wishes, but in the promise of the living Jesus Himself. He has spoken, and He will do it, for Phil’s sake and for yours.
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, 11/15/17