Text: “And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen!”
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, especially you, Bob, Lynette (Bill) Eremia, Bob (Brook) Heidt and Jeff Horst—Grace and peace to you from God our Father through our Lord Jesus Christ.
It was just a few days ago that congregations gathered to observe Ash Wednesday, as we did here. Literally millions of people heard the words: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Or, in the words of our Epistle reading from that day, our heritage as descendants of Adam is to live under the reign of death. And now here we are reckoning with the fact that your dear wife, your dear mother and grandmother, Sally has returned to the dust.
This life is impressive. The creation around us is majestic and amazing (the more we learn about it, the more amazing it becomes). Leaving aside, for now, the sinful pleasures that we pursue, there is, truly, so much in this life to give us joy. We enjoy so many beautiful and precious things in this life. The fulfillment we get from our work. The joy of the homes and lives and families that we've built. These are beautiful and precious things. And Sally certainly enjoyed them.
I remember my father once saying that no job requires as many skills or is as demanding as the “job” of a stay at home mother. And so I smiled to hear about how Sally not only handled all of those demands, but was so ready and able to offer a helping hand to others. And even that wasn’t enough for her as she sought out new and different skills—her piano and drawing—to develop and enjoy.
There are so many beautiful and precious things in this life. That’s why it’s so painful to be reminded, as we are, that behind all of it hides a secret: the reign of Death. For all it's majesty and wonder, this creation is equally terrifying, and even deadly, at times. It is marvelous and awesome, but it had a beginning and it will have an end.
And the beautiful and precious things that we enjoy, how long will they endure? Bob, you were blessed to have 66 years of marriage. Lynette and Bob, you were blessed to have had such a mother over all these years. There’s certainly some relief that her struggles over the past few years are over, but I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you’d probably say that these beautiful and precious things did not endure long enough.
That is the way of things under the reign of death. These are the consequences of being descendants of Adam who are dust and who will return to the dust. These are the wages of sin— the sin we’ve inherited from Adam and the sin which we ourselves—including Sally—have committed. It drags us and all that we try to build back into the dust from which we came.
That is the way of things under the reign of death. But it is not how we were meant to be. It is no more “normal” for a husband to bury his wife or for children to bury a parent than it is for a parent to bury a child. Neither one should be. Death has only reigned since Adam’s sin. Many have died through the one man’s—Adam’s—trespass. All of us, including Sally, bear the curse of sin because we are children of Adam.
That’s why God sent a ‘second Adam’—Jesus Christ. “[If] many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.” What Jesus brought into the word is the opposite of what Adam brought into the world. Sin and death reigned through Adam, the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation came through Jesus Christ.
Adam was created perfect and sinless and, by his disobedience, by his sin, he brought guilt and death to all of his descendants. Jesus, too, was born perfect and sinless and, by His obedience—especially His sinless death on the cross in our place, to pay for your guilt and mine and Sally’s—brings grace and the free gift of righteousness for all who believe, making us sons and daughters of God.
Sally was dust and to dust she has returned—but not before she was baptized into Christ. Not before she was buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, “just as Christ was raised from the dead, she too might walk in newness of life.” Not before she died with Christ in baptism and now also lives with Him.
She has returned to the dust, but not before she had the privilege of eating and drinking the body and blood of Christ. Someone once pointed out that “The whole mess began with eating. [Adam e]ating what God had not given and what He had expressly forbad. And so are we surprised to find at the very heart of the Christian faith, at the center of our gathering…, the gift of food? And such food! “The true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.”” He gives us, in that little bit of bread and wine, His body and blood to eat and to drink in order to join His perfect, sinless flesh to ours—the same flesh that has come through death, been laid in the dust, and risen again. Sally has eaten and drunk of that bread and wine, that body and blood. Christ has joined His perfect flesh to hers. And not only is Sally living right now in the presence of God, but this very body will rise.
It is just as the prophet Isaiah promised: “Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy!” (Isaiah 26:19). It’s just as Job confessed: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me” (Job 19:25-27). It’s as you’ve been taught in the catechism: “On the Last Day, the Holy Spirit will raise Sally and all the dead [this very body will be raised, perfected, and Sally will look upon her Lord with her own eyes] and [He] will give eternal life to Sally and to all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.”
Sally has come through Ash Wednesday. But she didn’t have to wait through the 40 days of Lent, she has gone straight to Easter! Last Sunday we “put away,” so to speak, our Alleluias, our songs of joy, for this season of repentance. But not today. Today Sally shares in the feast of victory of our Lord. In fact, there is no more appropriate time for that ancient Easter greeting: Alleluia! Christ is Risen! He is Risen, indeed, Alleluia!
“[Many] died through [Adam]'s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift of forgiveness and eternal life in Jesus Christ abounded for many.” He is risen and, with Him, Sally will rise again. Through His death and resurrection, the reign of death has been destroyed in her life once and for all. Alleluia! Amen.