Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Sermon for 3/9/16: Midweek Lent IV (Hymns series)

Christ, the Life of All the Living

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

“And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” It has always been the prerogative of God to give life, even from the very beginning of the world. The grass, trees, and crops; the sea creatures; the birds of the air; the beasts of the field; or humanity, the crown of creation—none of it would have life, had it not been given to them by God. And Jesus was an integral part of that. Saint John writes, “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life…” Ernst Christoph Homburg, who penned our hymn, rightly calls Him, “Christ, the Life of all the living.” 

But what does that mean for us? The Apostle Paul said that we “were dead in trespasses and sins.” That is, indeed, an appropriate description of humanity in our fallen state. As we heard before, man was not created to die; it was only because of sin, inherited from Adam and committed by us, that we fall ill, suffer infirmities, and ultimately go to sleep. Does that mean that Christ is not our life? Does that mean death is the end for us? It should. That is the judgment of a righteous and jealous God. St. Paul also wrote, “Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” Or as Mary sang in her Magnificat: “He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.” The proud and unrepentant sinner gets exactly what he wants, but he also gets exactly what he deserves. Death is the price of giving in to the desires of our flesh. And death comes to us all. 
But our hymn writer also rightly calls Jesus, “Christ, the death of death, our foe.” Death is a formidable adversary. Death is “the sting of sin;” death is “the wages of sin.” And never does death’s power seem more devastating than at the death of a child. I have to tell you: as I was writing this sermon, I received word of the death of Drake Astin, Mike and Shellie’s infant son. The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do as a pastor is bury an infant. And if it was that hard to handle as a pastor, it had to have been that much worse for the child’s family. Not only do we mourn for what was—the reality; we also mourn for what might have been—the potential, the possibility, the fantasy. At the death of a loved one, we ask those questions: “What if we had done this or that?” “How did this happen?” “What if I had prayed harder?” And when all else fails, we inevitably fall back to the toughest question of all: “Why?” Sure, answering that question will not bring back to life our loved ones who sleep the sleep of death, and it will not make the pain or the sense of loss go away. But at least it might not seem so senseless, so terrible, if we could only understand why. Still, there is no easy answer to that question. The disciples asked a similar question of Jesus as those we ask when our loved ones sleep the sleep of death: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” But then Jesus answers, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.” And then Jesus went on to restore that man’s eyes. It may not seem to be a satisfactory answer to the disciples, but even in the death of our loved ones, we see the glory of God revealed. Though we mourn for a time, we do not mourn as those who have no hope; even in our grief, we rejoice that our loved one has passed through the valley of the shadow of death, to live forever in the light of Christ, and we rejoice that we will be reunited with them when our time comes.

If Jesus can heal the blind man—and He does—then it should come as no surprise that Jesus should play the vital role in bringing new life to fallen mankind. For Christ is the foe of death, and Jesus is a deadly enemy to have. St. Paul writes, “The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.” When you look at a coffin at a funeral, when that coffin is lowered into the ground, you’re not seeing the finale; the curtain has closed only for the intermission. For the baptized child of God, that’s all death can ever be. Christ has suffered the direst pains of death so that our death is only a sleep. 

Thou hast borne the smiting only
That my wounds might all be whole;
Thou hast suffered, sad and lonely,
Rest to give my weary soul;
Yea, the curse of God enduring,
Blessing unto me securing.

The illnesses, the physical pain, even the mourning we endure at the death of our loved ones is overcome by our Lord’s death. In the same way, our own death, like theirs, is merely “a rest from [our] labors,” the Spirit tells us. 
And the day is coming when that rest will end. As Isaiah writes, “Your dead shall live; together with my dead body they shall arise. Awake and sing, you who dwell in dust; for your dew is like the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.” All of this is on account of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we rose from our death in the waters of Holy Baptism, through whom we shall rise on the last day. All who have baptized wear that robe which was made white in the blood of the Lamb; it shall be their funeral garment. And they will rise in that robe. Their pain shall have ended, the tears have been wiped away; nevermore will they weep, nevermore will they suffer, and never again will they die. This is your present reality and your promised future. For all this we will eternally praise our Lord and say:
Thousand, thousand thanks shall be,
Dearest Jesus, unto Thee.

In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

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