Us Christians are an interesting breed, aren’t we? We live a life of paradoxes. Now, but not yet. Joy in the midst of despair. Life in the midst of death. It doesn’t make sense, but that’s the Christian life. That’s something Gary knew well. He knew joy in the midst of despair, life in the midst of death, now but not yet. What does this mean? The Christian life is lived knowing full-well what the eyes see, but knowing also that to which faith clings. The eyes see death and decay and difficulty. Faith sees life and restoration and perpetual joy. And that’s why we’re here this morning. We’re here to celebrate that what our eyes see, what Gary’s eyes saw, is not the end of the story. Death is temporary. Death, though it hurts, has been robbed of its eternal sting by Jesus’ death and resurrection. Thanks be to God who has given us, who has given Gary, that victory through Christ Jesus Our Lord!
This is what St. Peter was talking about in the Epistle Reading we heard just a few minutes ago. We have a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. We are heirs of a treasure that is incorruptible, undefiled, and does not fade away. But now, for a little while, we are grieved by various trials. Our life in this world is not always easy or pleasant. However, as Peter went on to say, this is for good reason. Through the trials we endure, God strengthens our faith. He purifies us just like precious metal is purified by fire. He strengthens us through pain, just as muscles grow and become stronger as they are exercised. And as Gary knew, there were certainly trials. He knew what it was to be the patient waiting for diagnosis and treatment. He knew what it was to watch disease take its toll on loved ones. He knew what it was to say goodbye to his wife. These were certainly trials. But through them all, God strengthened his faith. Even as he went through those most difficult months of watching his beloved Lois decline, he rejoiced in the years God had given them together and rejoiced even more in the waiting arms of Jesus that were going to pick her up and take her home. He didn’t like the trials. Who does? But he knew that God would not abandon him. He knew that God had promised never to leave or forsake or to cast him off forever. So he placed himself and all things in the hands of God, trusting in His mercy.
And ultimately it is that mercy of God that saw Gary through his last days. He departed this life confident in Jesus. He believed what Jesus said: “The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live.” Even though Gary has died, even though we have lost a dad, a grandpa, a great grandpa, a dear friend, the simple truth is, he isn’t dead. He’s not here with us anymore, but he lives now forever with Christ. He has been taken to the kingdom prepared for him by Jesus Christ. Where he is now, there is no pain, no sadness, no toil, no tears. Now Gary lives and he is face to face with Jesus.
All this because Jesus died for Gary. When Gary was Baptized, as Pastor Lussky held baby Gary in his arms, poured the water, and spoke the name of the Holy Trinity, all of Gary’s sin was taken away from him and Jesus righteousness was given in its place. That baby, just a few days old, was declared righteous. He was given the benefit of Jesus’ death and resurrection. So, just as we said at the beginning of this service, “If we have been united with Jesus in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.” So Gary went patiently through life. He heard the Word of God, he was fed faithfully by the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in the Lord’s Supper, and waited for what happened Monday. He waited to hear the voice of Jesus, and because he heard that voice, he lives.
So, what now? What does this mean for us? What does this mean when you’re setting the table for Thanksgiving dinner next week and the pain hits because dad’s spot is empty? What does it mean when all you want to see is the gentle smile and hear the laugh? It hurts. It doesn’t seem like St. Paul is right, that death has lost its sting, because in those moments in the days and months and years ahead, there will certainly be a sting. In those times when sadness comes, when the grief is hard to bear, cast your cares on Jesus, because He cares for you. Tell Him honestly what you feel—that you’re sad, that it hurts, that you’re angry, that it’s awful. And He’ll listen. And He’ll tell you, “I know. That’s why I destroyed death. That’s why Gary is with Me. That’s why I have prepared a place for you, too, so we can be reunited, so we can live together in joy inexpressible forever.”
Until that time, when the sorrow is overwhelming, go to the place where Gary can be found. I don’t mean in Livonia, in the plot at Glen Eden next to Lois. I mean at the Altar. Each Sunday in the Communion liturgy we confess that we are gathered with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. That’s Gary, he’s in that company of heaven! At the Altar, around the Body and Blood of Jesus all the faithful in heaven and on earth gather. The Altar is the place where we are reunited with those who have gone before us. Gary went there to meet with Lois. And now we can go there to meet with him, to be fed by Jesus with His Body and Blood, just as Gary was throughout his life. There is where Jesus is found, where He wipes away our tears, and gives us the strength to endure the trials of this life.
For now, we get to continue on in our life of paradoxes. Now, but not yet. Joy in the midst of despair. Life in the midst of death. Jesus has died and rose from the dead to give eternal life to Gary and to you. Your time is coming, when you will hear the voice of the Son of God calling you from the valley of the shadow of death to Himself in heaven. In that coming moment, may you have joy inexpressible through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. He has prepared for you an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, that does not fade away.
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Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.