In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The first word that Jesus says to His disciples after His resurrection is “peace.” So, peace to you, family and friends of Jon, especially Patti, Jennifer, Jaclyn, Jordyn, Ashlyn, Jackson, and Christian. Peace from the Lord who has been raised from the dead and so death is no longer Lord over Him. Instead, He is Lord of life and death, and His mercy and comfort are for you today.
I never had the opportunity to meet Jon, so I can’t tell any good stories or share any memories. Dan shared a number of things with me, and it sounds like Jon loved well and was well-loved, though he, like all of us, had his share of struggles and difficult times. You all know about his personality, his work, his hobbies and projects, his coaching, his love of fishing, and everything else much better than I do, and I encourage you to share those memories with the family and with one another. I don’t have those memories and stories. But I do have the remembrance and the story of Jesus, who not only knew Jon better than any of us, but is the only one who can assure us that this separation between Jon and us does not separate him from Jesus.
That is the promise that is everywhere in the Scriptures: that nothing, not in life and not in death, is able to separate us from God’s love in Jesus Christ. And the reason that we cannot be separated from Him is because He is risen from the dead. In the Church calendar, we celebrated Jesus’ resurrection last Sunday, and the celebration continues for 50 days. And even after that, of course, every single Sunday is a little Easter, because it is the day on which Jesus rose. It is also a reminder of a couple things: first, that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are not only for the past, but for the future. And, second, that Jesus is not only for our lives in this world, but for eternal life.
What we have of those who have gone before us is the memory of how we knew them, their relationship with us, what they liked to do, and the various other memories that stick with us. But the remembrance of Jesus is not like that. These accounts, like the one from the Gospel of John that we heard, are not simply memories of the past, although they are that, from the eyewitnesses who were there. But they are more than that, as John tells us at the end of chapter 20: he says that there were many other things that Jesus did that he did not write down. But these things, he says, were written down so that you will believe that Jesus is the one whom God sent, and in that believing, have life in His Name. In that believing we have peace. In that believing we have comfort, especially in moments like this.
That life is only possible if Jesus is actually risen from the dead, and not just a memory inflated into a world religion. Even His disciples weren’t sure at first that He was actually risen. In Luke’s Gospel, they think He is a spirit or a ghost. Here, it is not until Jesus shows them His hands and side; then they rejoiced to see the Lord. Because spirits don’t have hands with holes in them and a side pierced by a Roman spear. Only the crucified one now raised from the dead has those. And it is precisely because He is raised from the dead that He can give them a peace that the world cannot give. It is a peace not just for the past but for the future; not just for their lives in the world, but for eternity.
And that means His peace is for Jon and for you. The same Jesus who appeared to the disciples on the evening of His resurrection day is alive today and the peace that He spoke to them, He speaks to you. He first spoke that peace to Jon on December 18, 1960, when God baptized him into the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, joining him to Jesus’ death and resurrection, as Romans 6 reminds us. And that is the promise that God not only kept until the day of Jon’s death, but will keep until the day of his resurrection. Though Jon is separated from your sight for now, he is not separated from Jesus. Since he had the life of Jesus during his earthly life, He has the life of Jesus now and forever. No one could remove him from the pierced hand of Jesus; since Jesus has passed through death and opened up resurrection life to all those who believe, not even death can separate Him from the one who is Lord of both life and death.
The body in which Jesus appeared to His disciples after His resurrection and showed them its wounds is the same body in which He will appear on the last day. That is the day for which both Jon and all Christians wait with eager expectation. Because even though it is good that Jon is free of pain now, there is an even better day coming, when Jesus will give him back a body not only free of pain, but free of sin and death as well. So also for all those who hear and believe the word of Jesus. That word is forever a word of peace. Peace to you today. Peace to you tomorrow. And peace to you in all the days to come. That peace, grounded in the physical resurrection of Jesus who was crucified, is the reason we have to rejoice, even in the midst of grief. Because the day is coming when death will be gone forever, and God will wipe away tears from every face, and the eternal celebration in the new creation will begin, a feast that never ends.
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, 4/20/22