(from St. John, Clare, Sunrise Service...)
The warm, bright sun was melting the snow into a slushy, sloppy mess. His feet burrowed into a firm spot in the fresh, soft earth. A few feet away from him opened a hole measuring four-feet wide, eight-feet long, and six-feet deep. Above this pit was suspended a casket.
Off to the side several young girls sobbed, heaving, gasping for little shots of air. Tears dripped down their cheeks. Lips bent into trembling frowns. This is grandma— someone who impacted their lives. She cradled them as babies and watched them at night. She taught them how to ride horses. Helped with homework. Smiled and laughed, told jokes and fabulous stories. Now she’s gone. Closed in a casket. Lowered into the earth. Never again to step foot into their homes. Never again to step into their lives.
As the creaky crank carefully lowered the casket into its vault, a sharp rebuke cut through the air: “Be happy! Come on, this is a celebration!” Those words may have cut deeper than the sight of death itself.
Demanding that people be happy at a funeral does not automatically bring happiness. Call it a celebration if you will. Tell jokes. Drink beer. Blast rock ballads. Relive memories. Yet, those human efforts do not stop the source of tears. Paint death as this beautiful escape from life, but it still leaves an empty hollowness inside.
You see, human solutions offer very little comfort when confronting death. Your Jesus does not skirt around the cause of death; he confronts death head-on. Because Jesus lives, you also may boast in the face of death: I Know My Redeemer Lives! This is our reality. This is our confidence.
Listen to our reading from Job 19:25-27. I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!
What a marvelous truth to hear— because we can so easily overlook it! Tucked right in the middle of those words is a reality we are all too familiar with: “My skin is destroyed.” That is not a pleasant thought. Yet, it is a reality every single person faces— whether you want to admit it or not. Babies are born. They enter this world without blemishes, healthy, have all these years ahead of them. Yet, the minute that baby arrives, the clock of life keeps ticking down. Babies get older. Teeth come in and fall out. Bones grow longer and then grow brittle. The mind learns and later forgets. Eventually that young, healthy baby grows into his own aches and pains, sore joints, cancer and disease, and watches death approach ever closer.
That’s why our Bible reading says: After my skin has been destroyed. It’s not a matter of “if” you get older; it’s a matter of “as” you get older.
That is a reality the entire world faces. That is not much to celebrate. Yes, shake a fist at death. Say: “Ha-ha, Death! I still have a smile plastered to my face!” Drink beer and blast rock ballads. Yet, none of those human solutions address the real issue of death. Paint death as this beautiful escape from life. But it will not stop the tears from flowing at the graveside.
In order to solve the problem of death you must deal with the cause of death. The cause, God explains, is sin. “Sin” is breaking God’s law (1 John 3:4). This stubborn arrogance refuses to bow down to God’s instructions. Instead, this puffed-up-pride wanders off after the rash foolishness of a faulty heart. That is “sin,” disobedience. “The wages of sin is death,” the Bible says (Romans 6:23). That’s the punishment; the soul who sins is the soul who will die (Ezekiel 18:4). Death came to all people because all sinned (Romans 5:12).
But that sounds so harsh, doesn’t it? Who wants to hear that? It just drags you down. It is not popular to say or admit. In fact, you may believe (or genuinely feel inside) that God loves you just as you are. That he chuckles when you lose self-control at the bar. That he leans in with balled up fists propping up his chin, nodding in agreement as you explain that you will use your body outside of marriage, how you will reject the parts of his spoken word you don’t agree with, how you have the right to lambast your elected leaders. With great big smug smile you can act this way and God has no right to hand down consequences. And still, remember, the wages of sin is death.
Not just the end of time on earth, but the end of time with God. Those who rebelled against God are thrown into hell, where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched (Isaiah 66:24; Mark 9:48). That’s not really much to celebrate. Yet, that is the reality sin brings.
Here is another reality: My Redeemer Lives! Mary Magdalene races to the tomb, arrives, puzzled. The stone is rolled away. The tomb is vacant. It takes two angels to piece the puzzle together: Jesus is not here! because He has risen! (Luke 24:6)
My Redeemer Lives! To “redeem” means to “buy back.” In the Old Testament, if a widow was on the verge of losing property or found herself in dire financial straits, a close-relative would buy back the property for her. He would buy her back from financial calamity. The debt owed to buy back your life from death in hell is perfection— a price you (and I) could never offer God.
Yet, Jesus, your Redeemer buys you back from spiritual calamity. The Son of God submits to God’s Word. Did you catch that? “Submits.” He obeys his leaders— like Pilate, who sentences him to death. Like Herod, who is a Jew drunk on power and greed. Like Caiaphas the high priest who calls the Son of God a liar! Never does Jesus cut himself off from the Word. Yes, Jesus knows everything in the Bible, but still worships every single week. His heart thrives listening to God’s commandments. Delights in obeying them. He hands over his perfect life as the price needed to buy you back from hell’s dungeon. And God accepts the payment.
He raises Jesus back to life, declaring him to be without sin, without the punishment of death. My Redeemer Lives! This is true! This is seen in a tomb that is empty! This is our reality! My Redeemer Lives! This is our confidence!
You can be absolutely sure that you will live forever in heaven. Jesus is your Redeemer, the One who rose Easter day in order to say: Everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day (John 6:40).
Even after my skin has been destroyed… Yes, bodies laid into the ground decay. Flesh and skin rot away. Bones dry out into dusty remains. Scoop a handful of sandy dust and you do not see life. The pile is so dry, lifeless, unable to be reassembled. Yet, because your Redeemer lives, in my flesh I will see God. In your flesh. In your body, with your legs standing you up, your neck turning your head, your hands reaching out, your mind comprehending who you see. The God who created Adam from a pile of dust in the Garden of Eden will use his same power to recreate you— and everyone else who died.
Yes, everyone. That includes Adam and Eve. That includes their son, Abel, the one murdered by his brother Cain. That includes those killed in wars fighting for the Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, English, French, and Americans. That includes those lying in marked graves and those lying in unknown locations. That includes those cremated. That includes your mother or father who died. That includes your spouse, your son, your daughter, your Christian friend. Because Jesus lives and declares you guilt-free, it means death cannot hold you. He will raise you from the dead—body re-created, body made immortal. We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. (1 Corinthians 15:51-53).
Job (the author of our reading) understood that reality. If you have no sin, then you should not die; you should live forever. Since death races towards each of us, it means you are sinful. Since you are sinful, it means you (and I) have turned away from God. The reason to celebrate this morning is not because we ignore what causes death. The reason we celebrate is because Jesus Christ removed the cause of death. Jesus Christ has removed sin from you (and me). And so, I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me. This is our confidence.
I remember standing a few feet away from a hole measuring four-feet wide, eight-feet long, and six-feet deep. Above this pit was suspended a casket. Off to the side several young girls sobbed, heaving, gasping for little shots of air. Tears dripped down their cheeks. Lips bent into trembling frowns. This is grandma— someone who impacted their lives. She cradled them as babies and watched them at night. She taught them how to ride horses. Helped with homework. Smiled and laughed, told jokes and fabulous stories. Now she’s gone. Closed in a casket. Lowered into the earth.
In the end, on the Last Day, the trumpet will sound. Jesus Christ will send his angels to gather the living and the dead. That grave on that hillside will open up. Grandma will sit up, body perfectly restored; flesh and bones immortal. She will open her eyes and see Jesus. Yes, the next person grandma will see is Jesus.
This is the reality for a believer. This is the confidence we carry because Jesus rises from the dead. So yes, blast the music. Relive fantastic memories. Smile—if you wish. But understand the real reason for your celebration. Jesus Christ has removed sin and therefore swallowed up death forever. Jesus, My Redeemer Lives to give me life!