I’m not sure if I’ve shared with you yet a part of a conversation I had with one man, years ago. He was at home under hospice care and I was visiting him every few days and, during those visits, we spent some of the time talking and he and I got into a good natured back and forth, taking little jabs at each other. Like I said, all good natured. On one visit in particular, I don’t recall what led up to it, but I pointed out to him that he might want to be careful what he said. Any time you’re going back and forth with your pastor, you’ve got to keep in mind that he’ll always get to have the last word.

Something struck me as I was preparing this week. What struck me is that, today, I am preaching what is, essentially, your funeral sermon.

            A dozen times over the past year, we have gathered here to mourn those we have lost. We have gathered to find comfort in the promises of God’s Word. Even though we haven’t lost you yet, that’s what we’re doing, isn’t it? We’re being comforted in the promises of God’s Word for two reasons: 1) some day it will, in fact, be your body here in a casket and 2) until then, you’re going to live. Both of those facts mean that we need the comfort of God’s Word, don’t they? Not only the fact that you will die one day—God willing, not for some time—but also the fact that, every moment between now and that one, you’ll be living in this world—both continuing to fall into sin, both large and small, and enduring the effects of sin. Both of those facts mean that we need the comfort of God’s Word. So let’s turn to some of the texts from the funerals over the past year and turn them around, in a sense, to point, not at those we’ve lost, but at you and me.

            The texts varied. One of those texts, for example, was Isaiah 26:19-- “Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead”

Another was Luke 2:29-32—“29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation 31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”—Luke 2: 29-32

From 2 Timothy: “14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have been assured of, knowing from whom you learned them 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” - 2 Timothy 3:14-17

And 1 Corinthians: “[As] it is written, “[No] eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9–16).

And Revelation 21:5—“…He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:5 ESV)

And Job 1:20-21—“20 Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. 21 And he said, “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”—Job 1:20-21

            And from Romans: “[D]eath reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For 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.”

Again, from Romans: “31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?… 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:31-32, 37).

The texts came from all over scripture, Old Testament and New. But the message is the same. You may have even picked up on some common themes. Take, for example, what I said at Mae Mihacsi’s funeral: “[Today] is not a day for generalities and vague promises. Today the prophet Isaiah speaks: “Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead”  - Isaiah 26:19.

Today is not a day for generalities and vague promises. It is a day for Jesus Christ. …God Himself left His throne in heaven and came down to become one of us so that He could live the perfect life that you and I could not live, so that He could take Mae’s sins and yours and mine and pay the full price of death and hell as hung on the cross, and then passed through death to life so that Mae, too will rise. His triumph that we celebrate on Easter Sunday, is now her triumph in Jesus Christ.”

I pointed out that, “[I had] had the privilege of bringing Mae the message of God’s grace and forgiveness for [about a] year and a half or so. [I had] had the privilege of reminding her that she is, in fact, a baptized child of God in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. [I had] had the privilege, just as other pastors have before me, of feeding her with the very body and blood of Christ in Holy Communion. And through those simple means, God sustained His hidden promise in her. The same Lord and Savior who lived for her, who suffered for her, who died for her, and who rose for her, has joined Himself to her through water, through the Word, through bread and wine. And now He has brought her with Him through death to eternal life.

It doesn’t get more direct, more personal than that, does it? Jesus Christ, crucified, dead, and risen for Mae. Poured onto her forehead in the water of baptism. Spoken into her ears through the words of absolution: “I forgive your sins in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Placed into her mouth in, with, and under bread and wine. Jesus Christ for Mae.” [1]

Again, it was a common theme for Mae, for Gary, for Dale, for Gretchen, for Max, for Arlene, for Jim, for Maxine, for Gloria, for Doug, for Sally, for Martha, and, yes, for you. Jesus Christ, crucified, dead, and risen for you. Poured onto your forehead in the water of baptism. Spoken into your ears through the words of absolution. Placed into your mouth in, with, and under, bread and wine. Jesus Christ for you.

We are not, yet, those who have come out of the great tribulation, but you have washed your robe and made it white in the blood of the Lamb. At our funerals we have the practice of putting a white cloth, called a pall, over the casket. We do it as a symbol that, in baptism, that person has been covered with the robe of Christ’s righteousness that covers all his sin. We don’t put a white cloth or a white garment on you when you come in, but you’ve been clothed in that same white robe and given the promise that, one day, “15 [You will stand] before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter [you] with his presence. 16 [You] shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore…. 17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be [your] shepherd, and he will guide [you] to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from [your] eyes.” (Revelation 7:15-17)

In the meantime, you will be troubled by hardships, trials, and persecution. You’ll be troubled by the sin that still clings to you. In the words of our Epistle reading, “2 Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2 ESV).

That’s true for the loved ones you’ve laid to rest and it’s true for you. The last time you saw them it may have been in a hospital bed or, perhaps, even as the casket was being lowered into the ground. What they will be has not yet appeared but we know that when He appears they shall be like Him. It’s also true for you and I. We are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared. For now, what we will be is hidden behind trials and hardships and our sin. And so we cling to Christ.

So, yes, today, this is your funeral sermon, in a sense. Unlike the one that will be preached someday at your actual funeral, this one isn’t for your loved ones. It’s for you. Begin and end each day in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; remind yourself who you are, in spite of what you see and feel, based upon the promise that you are a baptized child of God. Sustain that new identity in you by feeding it regularly with God’s Word, by feeding it with bread from heaven that our Lord gives, that we may eat of it and never die. Cling to Christ and purify yourself, putting away every sinful desire and loving one another—not in word or talk, but in deed and truth.

That is where God’s word points us in this life and it is our confidence for the next. Because I suppose that it’s not actually the pastor who gets the last word. It’s God. And that last word is His grace to you in Jesus Christ.

 

[1] Funeral Sermon for Mae Mihacsi, April 23, 2016