"Sleeping, and Rising to New Life"
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
St. Mark 5:21-43
July 2, 2006
IN NOMINE JESU
Asleep in Jesus—this is the body at perfect rest, perfect peace, and perfect slumber. "Asleep in Jesus! Blessed sleep, From which none ever wakes to weep; A calm and undisturbed repose, Unbroken by the last of foes. …Asleep in Jesus! Peaceful rest, Whose waking is supremely blest; No fear, no woe, shall dim that hour That manifests the Savior's pow'r" (TLH 587:1, 3). We sing these words in one of our great funeral hymns. When we are gathered here in our Lord's house to celebrate the life the Lord has given to a brother or sister in Christ, we give thanks for the life God gave him or her here on earth and the life now lived in heaven. In the many funerals I have conducted as a pastor, I have seen that many times tears are shed. I have also noticed a general misunderstanding about the purpose of a funeral, that it is a forum for saying goodbye to the one whose body lies in the casket. For many mourners, the funeral is no more than that, and they weep as those who have no hope and are to be pitied more than all men. Yet there are many who have a firm faith and also weep. Yes, they weep, for they miss their loved one. But for them, their tears of sorrow become tears of joy, for they know, and firmly believe that they will see their loved ones again, those who fell asleep in Jesus, for they will see them again in the joyful reunion in heaven, when they too will see their Lord face to face in all His glory and will behold His power. For them the funeral service and rite of committal is not a time for saying goodbye but to say, "See you later!"
Our text gives us a glimpse of our Savior's power. His power is revealed in the faith He sees in the hearts of those who come to Him with their petitions and intercessions. Our Lord does something we cannot do, and that is to be able to look into the hearts of mankind, for He is all-seeing. He saw the faith of the woman who touched His robe, seeking to be cured of her chronic menstrual flow. He saw the faith of the synagogue ruler, whose daughter was sick and, within the course of the text, died. When the news came that the little girl had died, the Lord said, "Do not be afraid; only believe" (v. 36). The crowds refused to believe Him when He said to them, "Why make this commotion and weep? The child is not dead, but sleeping" (v. 39). And by His speaking the little girl rose from the dead. He who commanded the light to be by a single world also commanded the little girl to live: Talitha, cumi, which means, "Little girl, I say to you, arise" (v. 41). And by His speaking it was done; she arose and walked. What was the crowds weeping and ridicule became sheer amazement. By His speaking, the Lord silenced those who ridiculed Him, for He made his power manifest at that hour. As the prophet Jeremiah says in our Old Testament reading: "It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. …Let him sit alone and keep silent, because God has laid [the yoke] on him" (Lam. 3:26,28). Those who wept as if there was no hope were stunned, but they would see greater things than this, for the Lord would later raise Lazarus, the precursor to His own resurrection from the dead, doing so under His own power. In these miraculous events the Lord showed Himself the Lord of life. This ought to give us pause to be silent and ponder anew what the Almighty can do. The words of one of our communion hymns bids us to "Let all mortal flesh keep silence, And with fear and trembling stand; Ponder nothing earthly minded, For with blessing in His hand, Christ, our God, to earth descendeth, Our full homage to demand" (WS 766:1).
But we do not give to God the full homage He demands. We do not fear, love, and trust in God above all things. When God speaks to us, we have the right to remain silent, but we do not have the ability. We do not respect God. We do not respect life. We do not respect death. We confessed this morning that we do not respect Him, as we are poor, miserable sinners who daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. We have shown ourselves to not respect life, living in a culture of death. Since 1973, when abortion on demand became the law of the land, over 45 million babies have been murdered, the sacred temples of their mothers' wombs desecrated, in the name of "choice," "sexual freedom," and "reproductive 'rights.'" Yet we have remained silent when we have the duty to speak. But when hardened and convicted murderers are set to be executed by the federal or state government, we cry for clemency, seeking to give them rights that over 45 million innocent pre-born children have been denied. We have shown ourselves to not respect death, for we seek to deny our sinful nature, as the wages of sin is death. We view death as more of an inconvenience than anything else. Funerals clash with our busy schedules. We come to "pay our respects" to someone no longer able to receive them, and we do not hear the Lord as He brings tidings of comfort and joy through the reading and preaching of His Word. We, like the crowd, scoff at our Lord, and we blame Him, even as Mary and Martha did at the death of Lazarus. We blame Him for taking our loved ones from us, rather than confessing our own sinfulness and that we too deserve to die on account of our own sinfulness. We view death as the end and not the new beginning it truly is.
Scripture makes it clear that death is just that—a new beginning. The blessed apostle St. Paul writes, "For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:14-19). We are healed; we are made new, for our Lord has healed us. The blessed apostle and evangelist St. John writes of his vision of heaven:
"Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.' Then He who sat on the throne said, 'Behold, I make all things new'" (Rev. 21:1-5a).
Christ has made us new, He has restored us, He has healed us and brought us new life in His death and resurrection. We sing of this reality in the great Lenten hymn: "Jesus, grant that balm and healing In Thy holy wounds I find, Ev'ry hour that I am feeling Pains of body and of mind. Should some evil thought within Tempt my treach'rous heart to sin, Show the peril, and from sinning Keep me ere its first beginning. …Ev'ry wound that pains or grieves me, By Thy stripes, Lord, is made whole; When I'm faint, Thy Cross revives me, Granting new life to my soul. Yea, Thy comfort renders sweet Ev'ry bitter cup I meet; For Thy all-atoning Passion Has procured my soul's salvation" (TLH 144:1, 4). Our Lord bids us to look to Him for our healing of body, mind, and soul, even as the Israelites looked to the bronze serpent raised on the pole and lived, for our Lord was lifted up on the cross so that we too shall live, both now and eternally. The ancient Church Father Aphraates says, "Moreover, [God] sent His Christ into the world, that we should believe in the resurrection of the dead; and should also trust in the efficacy of our Baptism. This is the faith of the church of God." Therefore, the Lord of life, who died on the cross to heal us and give us life, comes to us in His Means of Grace with His medicine. He has given us our Mother Church to wash us clean in Holy Baptism, wiping us clean and binding our wounds in Holy Absolution, for just as the little girl and Lazarus were raised and as Christ Himself rose from the dead, so also we receive newness of life. As our Lord spoke to the woman who touched Him, seeking healing, so He also says to us, "Your faith has made you well. Go in peace," words also spoken to us after we have come to His Table to receive the medicine of His body and blood: "The true body and blood of our Lord strengthen and preserve you steadfast in the true faith unto life everlasting. Depart in peace." In this healing meal our Lord gives us His prescription: "Take, eat; this is My body, given for you. Take, drink; this is My blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins." Through the holy medicine of Word and Sacrament, we receive the healing He obtained on the cross for us, including the promise of eternal life, rendering death impotent, for in death there is no end but a new beginning. When we fall asleep for the last time in this vale of tears, we shall awaken in heaven, basking in the glow of the Son of God, eagerly looking forward to the reunion of our bodies and souls on the Last Day. God grant this in Jesus' Name and for His sake.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
Send Pastor Mark Schlamann an email.