Video of the service is here. The sermon begins around the 19:10 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Cindy, Arlen, family and friends of Ray: God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ grant you the peace and comfort of those who grieve with hope in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.
There is never a good time to have a funeral, because there is never a good time to die. But if we’re going to have a funeral or a memorial service, Advent is a good time to be reminded not only to see the reality of this world clearly, but also of the hope of the world to come in the resurrection. During Advent it is right to say, “This is not the way it should be.” We should not be grieving, mourning, suffering. Life, not death, is what God intended for His creation. But sin and death are what we see all around us. As impressive as our medical technology and science are, they have never overcome the simple and final barrier of the end of our lives. And sometimes that is harder for us than at other times, such as when death comes unexpectedly or quickly. When we are confronted with the reality of this world in a way that God did not originally intend for His creatures, where can we find the calm in the chaos and comfort for our pain?
Advent reminds us not only of the way things are, but also of the way things will be. This is what Paul gives to the congregation in Thessalonika, many of whom were mourning and grieving, and it is what he gives to you as you remember and mourn Ray in his absence. We do not have only our memories and stories of Ray, or the many things he made with his hands out of wood. Those things all have great value and we can find some comfort in recalling those memories or holding on to those well-crafted items. But God gives us comfort through the apostle Paul that is not dependent on our power of recall or what Ray did or did not do.
Paul says that he does not want us to be uninformed or ignorant about those who have “fallen asleep.” This is the way that Paul often refers to Christians who have died, because he knew what Jesus said about those like the 12-year-old daughter of Jairus or Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha. Of both of them, Jesus said that they were only sleeping—not because their souls were in some sort of suspended animation, but because waking them from death is as easy for Jesus as waking anyone from sleep. Those who have died in Christ might as well simply be sleeping, because Jesus is going to wake them from death to eternal resurrection life.
We grieve as we experience the deaths of lose we love, but we do not grieve as those who do not have hope. Our hope tempers our grief, because one day, the promise of Jesus to which our hope clings will bring an end to our grief. Jesus is going to bring the souls of those who have died, but who are alive in Him, including Ray, and He’s going to give them their bodies back, but this time without sin, without death; without the need for canes, or medications, or hospitals, or doctors.
Advent says, Look! That Day is coming soon. The Lord is coming soon. He will descend from heaven with the cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God, and He is going to wake the dead. That promise is not just a general promise, but a very specific promise that God made to Ray in his baptism. When Ray was baptized, God joined him to Jesus’ death, and therefore also to Jesus’ resurrection. He promised that since He put on Ray His own holy Name, that He would keep him until the day of resurrection. He has kept that promise throughout Ray’s life, feeding him and strengthening him with the body and blood of Jesus, and with the word of forgiveness.
Even in those two short days that Ray was in the hospital, I read the promises of God to him, we prayed, and he confessed the Christian faith as we spoke the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer together. When I asked him what the doctors were telling him, he said that it didn’t “look good.” And it didn’t. His body was beyond the help of doctors or medicine or surgery. But he also told me that when the Lord called him home, that was his time to go. He was beyond the help of human work, but he has never been and is not now beyond the help of Jesus. Nothing in life or death, nothing now, and nothing that is to come, is able to separate God’s beloved children from His love for them in Jesus Christ. Ray’s soul is with the Lord now, but he is waiting, as we are waiting, for the day when by the Lord’s cry of command, the dead will hear him and rise.
Advent says that when we cannot help but be reminded of the way things are in this world, that Jesus has given us a promise in His birth, life, death, and resurrection that He is going to bring to completion when He is revealed in glory. Every word from God that Ray heard during his life here will be kept by the Lord who is faithful. The resurrection and the life are not only things that will happen to us, Jesus says that even now, He is the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Him, even if he dies, will live again. Death cannot have the last word—not even for those who have died—because we are baptized into Jesus, who was raised from the dead, never to die again. It is to that Lord that Ray belongs, as certainly as Lazarus did. And it is that Lord who will have the final word over the life and body of Ray, when He commands him and all His people to come out of their graves on that last day. This is our encouragement and our comfort, even in the midst of grief, for today and for all the days until Jesus keeps His baptismal promise to Ray and to us.
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, 12/7/22