In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Family and friends of Larry, especially Maxine, Ron, Cam, and Les: grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
How do we judge a life well-lived? Do we base it on how many years a person had? Well, we all know that a person can live a long life and not really be remembered for anything in particular, while a person could live fewer years, and be talked about for a long time after they die. Do we base it on all the groups of which the person was a part, or all their hobbies, or their job? Do we base it on what a person accomplishes, how they raise their children, how they treat other people, and things like that? Those are good things, of course, but they don’t last—at least for the individual—beyond his death. All our accomplishments cease when we are in the grave. For most of us, our accomplishments are remembered only by those with whom we were in direct contact. And for all of us, no matter what we do or how many people know us, the only people who are doing that remembering are those who are alive. As far as we are concerned, the grave puts an end to all accomplishments, all remembering, all learning from those who have gone before us. When Jesus talks about “abundant life,” He has to mean more than how many things our relatives can fit into our obituaries when we’re gone.
And He does mean more than that; He means abundantly more than that. Our limits are obvious: sometimes they become obvious when we can’t do the things we once did. I suspect it was frustrating for Larry when he wasn’t able to work on cars, or work in his shop, or do the other things he enjoyed. Sometimes our limits mean that because we can’t be in more than one place at a time, we have to decide between two important things. We have a limited amount of ability, a limited amount of energy, a limited amount of time. Though God made us to have dominion over the creation, as it is, far more often we find ourselves subject to it and limited by it. And death shows us our limits more starkly than anything else.
People will sometimes talk about the “dash” between the year we are born and the year we die. That’s the important thing, they’ll say. And certainly that time is more important than the years of birth and death. But those dates on either side of the dash only serve to highlight the limits of a single human life. And if life is limited to the time between two dates, what is it really worth, in the end?
So when Jesus talks about abundant life, He does not mean that we simply fill up the dash more and more, “live life to the fullest,” as they say. As we listen to Him in the rest of the Gospel of John, it becomes clear that He means Himself when He talks about abundant life. A life well-lived is a life lived in Christ, regardless of the activities or events with which we fill up our life. A life well-lived is a life lived on the receiving end of God’s good gifts and promises. And it means receiving life from Him that breaks apart the limits of what we usually call life.
Because Jesus gives eternal life. He gives life that is not bounded by the limits of weakness, sickness, sin, or death. He gives that life because He is that life. He is not limited by human weakness or sin, or death, because He already died in the weakness of the flesh, and He has been raised from the dead. We have been fooled into thinking that life is ours, and that Jesus has a part or a share in our life. But the reality is that Jesus is the Life, and we only live if we have a share in His life.
That is precisely what Jesus gave to Larry: a share in His eternal life. The Jesus who opened up eternal life to everyone opened it specifically to Larry when he was reborn in Holy Baptism. And then Jesus refused to let that new life die. He continued to feed and nourish and sustain Larry in that life. And this is what I saw. I don’t know what any random person might think when they saw Larry sitting in his chair or lying in that hospital bed. I don’t know what, exactly, Larry thought of his situation. He never complained to me, not even about hair cuts. About the most he would say when I asked was that he was a little tired.
But the things we see are limited by what we can see with our physical eyes. But according to what Jesus Himself says, that was a life well-lived because it was lived, at every moment, in Christ—not because of all the things Larry could do, but because of everything God had done for Him in Jesus. And not only in the past. I consider it one of the greatest privileges that I have ever had to bring the Lord’s Supper to those who can’t make it to the Lord’s House. Because, according to Christ’s promise, I am bringing eternal life to them. He says that He is the bread from heaven. His flesh is true food and His blood is true drink. And He does the will of His Father: that every one who has been given to Him, He will not allow to be perish apart from Him, but He raise them up on the last day (John 6:39).
Jesus lay down His life for Larry, and that is the life He gave him. He knows His own and His own know Him. So Larry said “amen” to the promises that He heard. He said “amen” to the prayers we prayed, even if he couldn’t speak it out loud. He said “amen” because He is a sheep of the Good Shepherd, who was his life and his salvation. I gave Larry eternal life, Jesus says, and no one is able to take him from My hand. Not even death can take someone out of the hand of Jesus, who is raised from the dead.
This is a life well-lived: knowing your life is hidden with Christ in God, waiting for the revelation of that life. And then, receiving those promises over and over, doing whatever God has given us to do here and now. Serving our families, raising our children, doing the works of love that they need from us, and knowing that in the resurrected Jesus, our labor is never in vain. And together we wait for the day when we will see the life that up to now we have only believed. Larry believed it; He will see it fully in the resurrection, and we will see it with Him. Because Jesus is our life; He is our Good Shepherd; He gives us His eternal, resurrection life; and He will raise us up on the last day to share with Larry and all His saints in the glory of that unending day.
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, 3/7/19