Friday, November 22, 2013
Homily for the Christian Funeral for Patrick Mygan
John 14:1-6; 1 Romans 8:31-39; Isaiah 40:6-11
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass.” All of us know this all too well. As we grow older, we can’t see as well, hear as well, taste as well, or smell as well as we used to. We can’t bend over or lift things like we used to; indeed, our greatest concern is merely to not fall over. Even I, at a third to half of most of you in age, know this all too well: I’ve not been able to see without corrective lenses since I was five years old. Everything I eat seems to add weight and girth. And, a typical conversation in my house with my wife often goes like this: “What?” “Huh?” “What?” Until we’re within five feet of each other; then, maybe, we can actually hear what the other is saying. Yes, we all know that we are fading, that we’ve been fading since our early forties, our mid thirties, yes, even since birth. And, we all know that death is coming, sooner or later, for “surely the people are grass.” Only the Word of God will stand forever.
Ah, but there is reason for hope – Not hope that we will avoid death, but hope that death is not all there is. In fact, the same passage from the Prophet Isaiah that speaks of us like unto grass also exhorts us to joyful hope in the Good News, the Gospel: “Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and His arm rules for Him; behold, His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him. He will tend His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in His arms; he will carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” This Good News is about Jesus. Jesus is the “arm” of the LORD who rules for Him. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who tends His flock and gathers His lambs. Jesus is coming, says the Prophet. And, Jesus has come. And, Jesus is coming again. This is Good News!
Jesus came, born, just as you were, weak and helpless, completely dependent upon His mother and His father to feed Him, and clothe Him, and protect Him – to provide Him everything He needed to live and prosper. This is how much your God, Your Good Shepherd loves you, that He would completely divest Himself of all His power and glory and take on the form of a defenseless child, suffer hunger and thirst, poverty and lowliness, grow older and experience the death of loved ones, even His father Joseph, and ultimately suffer and die the most excruciating and horrible of deaths imaginable to redeem you from sin and death. And, He has. But, still we die. Why?
Sin. The answer is sin. As St. Paul put it, death is the wage we earn for our sin – sin we have actually committed ourselves, and the sin that we were conceived and born with, inherited from our fathers all the way back to Adam. While we live, sin is always there. We know that it is there, for the proof of its presence is in our failing eyes, ears, backs and legs, and minds – the proof of sin’s presence is that we die. What Jesus has done for us by His death is that He has taken away, not death itself, but rather the sting of death, which is sin. Jesus, who knew no sin, was made to be sin for us, so that we might become, in exchange, the righteousness of God. Death still comes, but its sting is gone, that is, its power to hold us is gone, defeated, taken away, destroyed! In His resurrection, Jesus has made death a doorway, a portal, into eternal life with Him. Spiritually, through baptism and faith in Jesus, you have that eternal life now, but physically, according to the flesh, you still bear the corruption of sin, therefore the flesh still must die.
But, it will be raised. Again, as St. Paul puts it, the perishable body must put on the imperishable body – that is, the body that will be raised in the resurrection, a body like Jesus’ resurrection body. That is what we are truly waiting for, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting with Jesus. Too easily we get sidetracked into believing that the life of the spirit with Jesus after the death of the body, but prior to the resurrection of the body, is the most important and desired thing – but it is not. For, we are not spirit only, but we are body and spirit, and we long for the day that we will stand in our flesh and blood bodies before our Lord and see Him with our own eyes and confess Him with our own mouths. That is our hope and longing while we make our pilgrimage through the valley of the shadow of death. But we are comforted and strengthened that we may persevere, for our Good Shepherd Jesus has walked that valley already and has passed through death into life, and now He walks through that valley with us, the Victor over sin and death, to give us safe passage through the midst of our enemies, even death itself.
If God is for us, who can be against us? Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord: neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation. This is why Jesus says to you, “Let not your hearts be troubled.” You believe and trust in God, believe and trust me, God as a man. I have passed through the valley of the shadow of death and defeated death itself. I have returned to my Father’s house, and there I have prepared rooms for all of you. Where I have gone you cannot follow, yet. But, I will return to you, and I will take you to be where I am, in flesh and blood body and soul forevermore. I am your Shepherd, and I am the way, the path, and the road. Believe and trust in me, and your feet will not stumble. If you fall, I will catch you. I will restore to you perfect sight and hearing and clarity of mind. I will restore to you able bodies and strong hearts. You will be my people, and I will be your God, and I will wipe away every tear from your eyes.
The chief source of our comfort and peace now is the sure and certain promise of Jesus’ presence with us in the valley of the shadow of death. And the chief source of our comfort and peace and hope for the future is the promise that we will be with Jesus where He is. We take comfort this day that this promise has been kept for Patrick; Patrick is with His Lord, and there is no more labored breathing or staggered walk, there is no more pain and suffering, sorrow and tears, but there is peace, contentment, happiness and joy in the presence of Jesus. Yet, even Patrick, and all the saints await that yet more glorious day when Christ returns, and our dead bodies are raised. Then we will stand with Patrick and our mothers and fathers, children, relatives, and friends in glorious flesh and blood bodies and holy souls forevermore. That is our hope, our comfort, and our peace which passes all human understanding – to be with the Lord Jesus, who keeps His promises.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.