It was on the 4th of July in the Year of Our Lord 1996 that my Grandpa, Carl Stuckwisch, died from his life on this earth and entered the nearer presence of his dear Lord Jesus Christ. I've often said that it was his real independence day. He had been to visit us in South Bend for my Ordination at the end of May and Monica's Holy Baptism on the first Sunday in June. That was the last time I got to see him alive. He returned to Seymour, Indiana, and shortly thereafter entered the hospital, where he departed in the peace and faith of Christ on this day eleven years ago.
I've mentioned before that Grandpa Stuckwisch was one of my favorite people in the world. I have fond memories of our family visits to his house as I was growing up. It was there that I usually had the joy of seeing my cousins and playing with them, but the thing I always loved best was seeing Grandpa and Grandma.
I remember how Grandpa would make jelly bread for me, as he did for himself at every meal, and we'd have our jelly bread together. He had a great back yard, not big but full of fun. When I was very small, he even kept chickens back there, til a city ordinance brought an end to that. He still had dogs, beagles I think, and I'd help him feed them whenever I was there at his house. As I got older, I learned how to play Canasta with Grandpa, and it is one of my fondest childhood memories, how I would get to play cards with him and my Dad, and sometimes others would join us, too. Fact is, I have almost nothing but wonderful memories of my time at Grandpa's house.
While my Dad was going to the seminary in the late 70s, I actually lived at Grandpa's house for a couple years, along with Mom and my younger siblings. Those were some difficult years, in many ways, but living with Grandpa and Grandma was the silver lining in that cloud. There is this happy picture in my mind of those days that I spent there in Seymour with the two of them, loving life and being so unequivocally loved. I miss my Grandpa, but I thank God for all the time I got to share with him over the years, and I rejoice in the independence that he has been granted by grace through faith in Christ.
Independence from what? Not from his body, though it suffered the curse and consequences of sin and finally succumbed to mortality. The ancient gnostics believed that the body was a prison from which the soul needed to be set free. Modern gnostics teach the same thing in a variety of ways, and I'm sorry to say that too many Christians harbor this heretical notion, as well. But we are not imprisoned in our bodies, nor is our salvation in Christ a freedom from our bodies.
Our freedom in Christ Jesus is independence from sin and death. During our time on this earth, we continue to suffer the temporal consequences of the fall into sin, and we bear the weight of our mortality, but these sufferings of the present time are not even worth comparing to the glory of the age to come. Our bodies do get weak and frail, they get sick and, when we die, they return to the dust from which they were taken. But our bodies, also, those same frail bodies of sickness and death, have been redeemed and sanctified by the Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior. For we are creatures of both body and soul; indeed, we were created by the Holy Triune God for life with Himself forever in both body and soul. The Son of God, by whom all things were made, became flesh Himself, a true Man with a real body, like unto our own. It was in that body of His that He bore our sins, unto His death upon the Cross. He was crucified, died and was buried, and then He rose bodily from the grave and ascended bodily into heaven. As His sacred body was thus raised from the dust of the earth and is now seated forever at the right hand of the Father, so too shall our bodies of dust be raised and enlivened by the Holy Spirit to live forever with the Lord and our Father in heaven.
There is the question of what happens to the soul between bodily death and the resurrection of all flesh. Some Lutherans have been troubled by debates over a theory of "soul sleep," which supposes the soul to slumber peacefully in Christ until it is reunited with the resurrected body. Concerning such things, we have no absolutely clear and unambiguous Word of the Lord. But I am more inclined to believe that, even as we live in Christ throughout our pilgrimage on earth, so shall our souls live in Him, yes, even in His flesh and blood, as members of His body, when we have departed from this world to be with Him (which is far better). He is our Sabbath Rest, that is true, but that has far more to do with His sweet forgiveness of all our sins than with any snoozing. Our bodies do rest in the bosom of the earth, awaiting their raising at the last, but I do believe that the souls of the faithful departed live and move and have their being in Christ Jesus.
Grandpa Stuckwisch lived by grace through faith in Christ, and he died in that same grace and faith. He was sustained in both life and death, in both body and soul, by the Word and Spirit of God. As one of the early church fathers observed, the Lord does not deal with the soul apart from the body. His Word enters the heart and the mind through the ears. The waters of Holy Baptism cleanse our souls as they wash over our flesh. The Body and Blood of Christ Jesus are given to us Christians, to eat and to drink with the mouth, to receive Him into our mortal flesh and blood. As He who conquered sin and death in His own Body of flesh and blood, abides in us, and we abide in Him, so do our bodies also live in the hope of the resurrection and the life. In a flash, in a twinkling of an eye, we shall then be raised, and we shall be like Him. Our bodies also shall be immortal and imperishable, glorious, like unto His own glorious Body.
Happy Independence Day, Grandpa! Soli Deo Gloria Propter Christum