Just recently, one of the members of the congregation died. He died. He didn’t just ‘pass away.’ He died. He stopped breathing. His heart ceased. And during the funeral, the casket being closed, laid the body of a loved one, friend, and saint of God.
Arnie was his name. He has transferred from the ‘church militant’ to the ‘church triumphant.’ He was an active member, attending regularly unless physically unable.
Just about a week or two prior to his death, he confessed his sins by answering in the affirmative to questions I had asked him while using the ‘commendation of the dying’ section in one of our service books (Pastoral Care Companion). He later received the Lord’s Supper. I reminded him of his baptism.
Arnie had confessed the faith. He had run the race (Hebrews 12:1). He had been baptized. He heard the Word. He received Christ’s body and blood.
All of the above point to what God had done, what He was doing, what He still does for us who remain living on earth. All of the above, Word and Sacrament, emphasize God’s work—not man’s—for our salvation. They point out our sure hope, our certain confidence. Not by what we do, but by what God does in Christ Jesus, are you called a saint, a holy one of God.
On the day of Arnie’s funeral, there was indeed sorrow. But there was also that sure confidence of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, for according to His Word does the Lord declare it to be so:
16 For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. 17 And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! 18 Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. 20 But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. 23 But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. (1 Corinthians 15:16-23)
We gave thanks to the Lord for the life and for the faith God had given to His beloved child. And we give thanks now for the life and for the faith God has given us, that we believe, and so live.
We were reminded of our own mortality that day in a most sublime way. Arnie was not getting up. But this didn’t mean that eternal life was not his, or that He was not with the Lord.
We walk by faith, not by sight, St. Paul the apostle says—by faith in the Lord’s abiding and true Word (2 Corinthians 5:7). He doesn’t lie. He says how it is. He says that there is life, even in death. And this we know to be true, all because of Jesus, the Living One, who conquered sin and death and the devil, and through whom we have life, eternal life.
Prayer: Dear Father in Heaven, give us sure confidence in Your Word, that even as we sorrow and grieve, seeing the death of others and reflecting on our own mortality, we not lose hope, but look ever to You and Your Son Jesus Christ, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame. Grant that we too look to our promised inheritance, setting our minds on things above, not on things of the earth; and meditating on what is good and noble and true. Amen.
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