Beloved family, relatives, friends, and especially George,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our culture has swallowed hook, line, and sinker, the lie that death is natural. If you read our high school text books, listen to professors in the college classroom, or even turn on the T.V. you will hear the same thing being said: death is just nature doing her thing. If you believe that, it is likely that you also believe that our world is about 4.5 billion years old, and that life has gradually evolved over millions of years from simpler to more complex life forms. All of this is connected. Because if that is true, then death is not, as Scripture teaches, the result of sin. It is a natural process, as normal as eating pie on a Sunday afternoon.
Death is not natural. It exists only because Adam and Eve, the first humans ever created by God, were deceived by the Devil and fell into sin. God promised them this would happen if they ate of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: “On the day that you eat of it you will surely die.” And we know from Scripture that this is exactly what happened. St. Paul, the Apostle wrote the following to the Christians in Rome: “In Adam all died, because all sinned.” Death and sin go together. Sin brings death. It brings decay. It brings destruction.
Had sin not entered the world, had our first parents not allowed themselves to be deceived by the Devil, then death would not have come. Nor would there have been suffering, sorrow, or pain. No cancer; no heart-attacks; no bad eye-sight. All of these are simply evidence that things are not as they should be. They are evidence of sin. Make no mistake—there is nothing natural about death. It is, in fact, the most unnatural thing in this world. We do our best to cover it up, make it look natural. We have comfortable funeral parlors and nice looking coffins. But no matter how much we try to spruce it up, it is still death. Every funeral home is a reminder that man rebelled against God, and lost.
That is ultimately why we are gathered here today. It may be difficult for you to hear this. Perhaps you were expecting me to talk about how good of a life Theresa lived, how well loved she was by her family and friends. But then I would be doing you a disservice. For you need to hear this. You need to know why we are here so that you might repent of your sins and take refuge in the one who has conquered death in his own death and resurrection. The same God who laid the foundations of the world will call all men to account on the last day.
And God’s Word says that all who believe and are baptized will be saved. Whoever does not believe, however, will be condemned. For this reason we thank and praise God that Theresa was baptized into Christ. She believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God, who suffered for her sins and the sins of the whole world, and rose again from the dead on the third day. Christian hope rests on this foundation and no other. It trusts that because of Christ and His sacrificial offering on the cross, God has freely pardoned the world of its sin, and offers eternal life to all who believe this. It was evident that Theresa clung to this hope even to death. And so it is that we mourn Theresa’s death, but not as those who have no hope.
For we know that just as Christ rose from the dead, never to die again, so also will Theresa and all who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For certainty of this we can look to many examples in Holy Scripture. We have the example of Christ himself, whose body did not remain in the tomb, but rose. This is no myth or fairy-tale. We do not believe this blindly. Scripture says that Jesus appeared to many, hundreds of people in fact, after he rose from the dead. He appeared to Peter and the other apostles in the Upper Room on the night of his resurrection, and the following week. He showed his hands and feet and side to Thomas, who said: “My Lord and my God!” It was no phantom that they saw. It was no apparition or merely a disembodied spirit. It was the Lord Christ himself, glorified in his body.
But we also have many other examples that show that Christ has the power to raise the dead. We heard today of the son of the widow at Nain, how Christ approached the coffin where the dead boy lay, and placed his hand on it saying: “Young man, I say to you, arise!” With merely a word, Christ brings life out of death. So also will Christ at the end, with a word, call all the dead from their tombs, and give eternal life to those who believe, to those who trusted in His mercy and grace. Thus we confess in our Christian creeds: “From thence he will come to judge the living and the dead.” And we say of the Holy Spirit: “I believe in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.”
The circumstances that bring us here today remind us that we too are mortal, that because of sin we too will one day lie in death, even as Theresa does today. At such times it is good for us to consider our own standing with our Creator. Do we share Theresa’s faith? Do we believe that we are sinful and unclean, and that we are helpless to do anything about it on our own? Do we believe that God in his mercy gave His Son into death for us and for our salvation? Do we believe that because of this, and not because of anything that we have done, God is gracious to us and forgives our sins? If this is your faith, then your death, like Theresa’s, will be a blessed one. It will be for you the gate of eternal life.
Today we are thankful to the Lord that Theresa’s suffering has ended. We are thankful that she is at peace. We are thankful that God has finally taken away her pain and her tears. More than this, however, we are thankful that God has reconciled Theresa to himself, and that she believed this throughout her earthly life. We are thankful that in holy baptism, God washed her and gave her the new birth from above. We are thankful that her God-given faith was fed and nourished by the Word and the Sacrament of Holy Communion, especially as her time of departure drew near. And we are thankful that, according to the promises of Holy Scripture, we will have a happy reunion with her in heaven, and with all the faithful who have fallen asleep in the Lord.
We are thankful that Christ has won the victory over death and sin, so that now we can say with the Apostle Paul: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law, but thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Amen.