In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Death is at work in you. It wants to visit you. You know it. You feel it. You see your own powers diminishing day by day. You see your own life constantly shrinking and ebbing away. This is why the coming of new life is so amazing. Why babies are so beautiful. For they are bursting with life. They seem deathless—the opposite of death. Yet we know how fragile they are, how prone to death. How if they were apart from their mothers for long they would perish. And so in opposition to death you are moved in your inward being, deep down in your guts, by a baby. You want to preserve it, to protect it, to love it and to cuddle it. For it gives you joy and hope. And God has made it thus. He put this instinct to preserve the life of the most vulnerable in us. For we all know, that given enough time, death is coming for you, for me, for babies, for all. And so we fight against it and flee from it. For you are a long way away from being a baby. You creep toward the grave every day that passes. And as we come nearer to that day we often make light of death, joking how any day we’re on this side of the soil is a good day. But death is coming for you. For it is at work in you.
Even though you know it is at work in you—and therefore death is at work in everyone else too—you are never ready for it when it comes. And you hate it when it comes for a young person. And it is even worse when a child or baby is robbed from you. For death comes as a thief stealing your life, your future, your joy and hope from you. Snuffing out anymore tomorrows, anymore possibilities. It mocks you with its toothy, hollow-eyed grin. And you shriek in powerless desperation.
As a culture we try to deal with death by ignoring it. We flee from it and avoid it all costs. That’s why so few people die at home any more. So that we might keep our homes free of death’s visitation. Instead, hospitals and hospices are now the site for death’s coming. This has happened because of better care and treatment of what ails us. But an unintentional by-product of this is that we think we won’t have to reckon with death in our daily lives. For it does not tread where we live our lives. As though that can protect you from it. For death is still at work in you. That’s why so many people hate hospitals. For they wreak of death to us. When we go there we know we are treading on death’s domain, rather than into a place which fights powerfully against death. And you are reminded that death is coming for you and your loved ones.
This is why your heart goes out to any mother who loses her child. For it reminds you that death wants to visit you. Even if it is not your child it’s like you’ve been kicked in the stomach. You feel it deep down in your inward being. And it is even worse if the mother is already a widow, touched by death. But death does not care. So that the age old refrain keeps being sung: no parent should have to witness the death of their child. Yet they do. It is a common occurrence in this world of death. For you can not escape that death is at work in you and will visit you and your loved ones.
And there are times in life where you can’t seem to get away from it. Like all around you everyone you know is dying. Or you’ve heard of one too many children or young people dying. And sorrow overwhelms you like a hurricane. And you lose heart. You get discouraged. For the suffering of others weighs you down. It becomes your suffering. It sucks the life out of you. And you wonder, “What’s the point?”
And how much more so at church? We see the death of friends and fellow believers. We see the inevitable decline in attendance as one more pew is empty. And you get discouraged. For the Church seems like it is dying. And it wears you down. You wonder, “What’s the point?” So that you die a little inside. Maybe you become discouraged from even going to church.
And yet the Church is the place for death. For this is the place where not only death happens but where resurrection happens—in the waters baptism. (Rom 6:3-4) In the word of forgiveness. (Dt. 32:39-42; Heb. 4:12; Eph. 6:17) Where new life is given out. Where hope is restored through Jesus visiting you. So that the death of our faithful members is not a discouragement, but a joy. They have been gathered unto Christ’s eternal sheepfold. His holy angels have gathered another unto their number. (Luke 16:22) He has visited them with rest and peace. This is why funerals of faithful members, while sad because we will miss them, are often such a great joy. Because the sermon, hymns, even the body of loved one in front of us is a reminder of Christ’s victory over death through the faith Christ gave our dearly departed.
For Christ was moved in His inward being (Luke 7:13) to make your death His death. He has taken your sin and death, putting it to death in His own body. Rising in victory over death. He now visits you in His Word and Sacraments by which He takes up residence inside you. So that He who defeated death is the power at work in you. (Eph. 3:20)
And so remembering Christ our Lord’s death for us death no longer discourages us quite so much. For death is transformed into the gateway unto He who is our life. Unto His paradise. Even the diminishment of the Church by death isn’t quite so bad. For the Church in heaven has grown. And we who are here below are united with the Church in heaven every time our Lord visits us at our altar, bringing with Him the whole company of heaven, angels and archangels, and those who have gone before us unto Him. For when we sup on His body and blood, we are not the only ones gathered. These pews are not as empty as they seem. (1 Pet. 1:12b) For a greater, larger gathering is happening. And you are never closer to your loved ones who died in the Lord here on earth, than when heaven comes to earth in His Holy Supper. (Heb. 12:1) And this faith, this mystery, this joyous truth, this Jesus who is rock of our faith, and foundation of our resurrection builds His Church until the end of time. (Matt. 16:18) So that the gates of hell shall not prevail against Her. Even if she should be but a remnant (Isa. 1:14; 10:20-22; 11:11-16; 1 Kings 19:18; Rom 11:5; Rev. 12:17) when the Lord comes. In and through her He conquers death in this world. (Eph. 3:9-11)
For Christ was moved in His inward being to make your death His death. He has taken your sin and death putting it to death in His own body. Rising in victory over death. And in His Church He now visits you in His Word and Sacraments by which He takes up residence inside you. So that He who defeated death is the power at work in you. And the gates of hell shall not prevail against us.
In +Jesus’ name, Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock