06 April 2014

Now, in Christ, Death Cannot Slay Me

Even the friends of Jesus are confronted with sickness and the experience of death.  They suffer hurt and disappointment.  They are subject to sadness and tears.  The same is no less true for you, who are called to believe in Christ Jesus and to follow Him.  Indeed, His disciples are called to bear the Cross and follow after Him, to suffer and die with Him: crucified, dead, and buried.

It is one thing, however, to bear and suffer these things with Him; but it would appear that Jesus is not here with you, when He could be, and that He does not do what He could to help.  He waits and deliberately delays; He doesn’t respond right away.  He does not answer your prayer according to the longing of your heart, but in a way that is confusing and seems to make no sense at all.

If only He were here, your brother would not die; nor your nephew; nor your cousin; nor your son.

If only He would intervene and do “His thing,” your own infirmity and illness would not end in death, nor even disability, but you would surely recover and, not only live, but thrive.

Isn’t that what a close personal friend of Jesus ought to expect from the One who is incarnate Love and the very Mercies of God in person?  He causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on both the evil and the good, and He gives daily bread even to the wicked: Will He not help out His friend?

You know the whispers and dark questions of your sinful heart and mind.  What does it mean when Jesus does not do what you are so desperately hoping and praying?  Have you disappointed Him or failed Him, somehow, that He should disappoint and fail you?  Is He tired of your nagging and your neediness?  Or does He just have better things to do?  Does He not love and care about you?

To be sure, there are a thousand such temptations of doubt and fear, which are a more devastating consequence of sin than the sickness and death of your body.  Where heart and mind are insecure and uncertain of Christ Jesus, weeping and mourning do not flow in faith and love, but threaten to overwhelm you altogether, to drown you in cynical despair.  Assaulted by the crafts of the devil, you are buried, not with Christ in the hope of the Resurrection, but in hopelessness and unbelief.

Yet, for all your frustration, faithlessness, and fear, the fact of Christ’s presence and His love for you are certain.  Not because you have been such a good friend to Him, but because He is sent by the Father to do His Will and to glorify His Holy Name; and His divine Glory is your Salvation.

The Lord Jesus is the Good Physician, it is true, but He does not come to stave off death with heroic measures to protect and preserve your life on earth.  He does not call a halt to the reign of death by the fiat of His almighty power; although, yes, He could do that.  He could also have let Adam & Eve eat from the Tree of Life in the midst of the Garden, and so live forever in their sin.  But, instead of that, He would have the children of man become the children of God, and so live in His eternal Love: To be reconciled to Him in peace, and to become His friends in truth.  Thus, He comes, not to spare your body from the first death, but to save your body and soul from eternal death, and to bring you alive into the Paradise of the New Creation in His own glorified Body.

For that reason, Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, the One who comes into the world, enters fully into the sickness and mortality of human sin and death, in order to die on behalf of all the people.  He comes to save them altogether, by His own death in the flesh, and by His holy, precious blood, from the bondage and fear of death; and to bring them into the glorious liberty of the sons of God.

He also will be wrapped and shrouded in grave clothes, buried in a tomb, and hidden away from sight and smell by a large stone.  For He makes His bed where your body should be laid to rest.

Even so, according to the prayer and confession of the Psalmist, His sacred Body will not suffer decay, nor will the Father permit His beloved Son and faithful Servant to undergo corruption.  He always has the Life of the Father in Himself, and He is Himself the Resurrection and the Life of the world.  So it is that death and the grave are not able to hold Him or contain Him; although He willingly submits to them, and lays down His life in death, in order to take it up again for us all.

Thus, sickness and mortality do not end in death.  Even death itself does not end in death!  But, no, in Christ, the Christian passes through death into the Resurrection and the Life everlasting.  And, dear friends, that is the case, not only on the last day, but already here and now in the midst of sin and death.  For now, by faith, you walk in the Light of Christ and do not stumble or fall.

You are sorely tempted, tried, and tested, no doubt about it; not least of all by the ravages of sin, by sickness, suffering, and death, not only in yourself, but in your loved ones and all around you.

Nevertheless, as you believe in Christ, the Crucified and Risen One, the greatest miracle of all is that you do behold the Glory of God.  Not “in spite of the Cross,” but precisely in the Cross itself, which you have come to know and have believed to be the glorification of the Son of God.

It’s not that your hopes are pinned on some miraculous rescue from every illness, suffering, and tragedy of this perishing world.  Oh, yes, you rightly pray for the mercies of the Lord, and you rely upon His help in every kind of trouble.  But, come what may, you give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy endures forever.  You hear and heed the Voice of Christ in His Gospel, and you find sure and certain hope in the Resurrection and the Life of His Body and His Blood.

Take courage, and be comforted, that He has also borne your griefs and carried all your sorrows in His own flesh, in His own body to the Cross.  For He has suffered Himself to experience and share all your weaknesses and temptations, and He sympathizes with you, as your merciful and great High Priest.  He does not abandon you in tribulation and heartache, but He is with you, to strengthen and support you in the one true faith, and to save you from every evil of body and soul.

So much so is it the case, that He is with you in the suffering and experience of sin and death, that it is by His Cross that He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the children of God.  You enter into the friendship of God, and share His Glory in Christ Jesus, precisely by the way of the Cross.

Therefore, whether you live, or whether you die, you are the Lord’s.  In Him who loves you, who died for you and has risen from the dead, you also rise up and live forever, even though you die.  By your Baptism, you have already died with Him, in order to live with Him, never to die again.

In that Light of Christ, it is not wrong, but appropriate and right, to mourn those who die from this mortal coil, who have been near and dear to you in this life on earth.  For death is the consequence of sin; it is an intrusion upon God’s good creation and gift of life.  Only, do not mourn as those who have no hope.  Do not despair.  Do not give yourself over to grief, as though it were your god.

Rather, call upon the Name of the Lord your God, and rely upon His mercy.  If and when you are undone by sorrow and fear, yet, He is not done with you, but He is and remains your Savior.

In and through Christ Jesus, your Father in heaven hears and answers your prayers.

And the Answer to your prayer, the Father’s resounding “Yes” and “Amen” to your every need, is Christ Himself, the incarnate Son.  Not simply as a means to an end, but as the One who is your Resurrection and your Life everlasting with God.

As you have already died and are risen with Christ Jesus through Holy Baptism, so do you also feast upon His crucified and risen Body and Blood.  Here He comes into your world, and He is with you in the flesh.  It’s not “too little, too late.”  This Sacrament is the promise and the pledge, the sign, seal, and delivery of His own indestructible Life.  The Holy Absolution of His Gospel, His speaking of forgiveness, is already the loud and clear voice of the Resurrection, by which He calls you to come forth out of the darkness of despair into the sunshine of His eternal Day.

In this Lord Jesus Christ, therefore, you really are set free from sin and death forevermore.  No longer are you imprisoned by the grave, nor bound and constricted by its trappings.  You do not stink of death and decay anymore, no matter what your senses may tell you in the meantime.

Instead, you live and believe in Jesus.  You live in the Light and Love of His Word to you.  And you and your prayer arise like sweet-smelling incense, a pleasing aroma, to your Father in heaven.

As the Lord your God is pleased with you, do not be dismayed or afraid, but hope and trust in Him, in the confidence of faith.  And here behold His Glory in the Body given and the Blood poured out for you and for the many.  For with His own flesh, the Life of God Himself abides in you forever.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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