Shout for Joy “But your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy.” Isaiah 26:19
“Oh, blest communion fellowship divine,
We feebly struggle they in glory shine,
Yet all [of us] are one in your great design.”
Today we remember the blessed saints who have gone before us in the Lord: the great saints of the Scriptures; of history;and those blessed saints who were our husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, children, friends, and loved ones who have gone to be with our Lord Christ. ” Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.”
Death is the consequence of sin. To think about death, however, is not a very pretty thing. The thought of death… even for the Christian can be terrifying. Whether it comes quietly and quickly or with a terrible vengeance of one thing we can be certain; come it has,come it does, come it will. And, when it comes, it often breaks the hearts of those left behind. You see, somewhere in the middle of us, we know that is not the way it is supposed to be. God didn’t create us to suffer and die. No, He created us for life…life that runs on forever in perfect harmony with Him.
Death? Death is the consequence of sin, and, as you have heard countless times from this pulpit, death is the terrible curse no one escapes. Caskets come in all sizes. They fit the very young and the very old the strong and the weak the rich and the poor. And sooner or later, one of them has your name on it. There is no avoiding that. No escaping that. No hiding from that. You can deny it, perhaps, but it won’t deny you. It hasn’t denied even the greatest of saints. “The wages of sin is death,” and everybody gets paid what they are due… Death and the grave swallows up everyone.
In our funerals, we do not have eulogies. You know what I mean—where people stand up in the church to say “good words” about the deceased what was accomplished, the good that was done, how much they loved their children, what a good person he or she was. To listen to them you would almost swear that they didn’t have a sinful bone in their bodies. “Oh, sure, they made a few ‘mistakes,’ but don’t we all? But, at their heart, what wonderful, good, innocent, and holy people they were. Impressive in their morality, lavish in their love, magnificent in all their mannerisms. To listen to a typical eulogy, you’d come to believe that the deceased really didn’t need a Savior, that because of their good life heaven has thrown open its doors in anticipation.. You hear good words about good works. But all of that is the way of the Law, isn’t it? Anything gauged on what you do, anything that is good because you did it is certainly of the Law.
And so is death. Death is certainly of the Law. Death tells us that God isn’t all that impressed with our good works. Death tells us that a eulogy is nothing more than lie, a final lie perpetrated in public, for in the end there is nothing that we can ever do that saves us from the penalty of sin. The dead are dead because he or she was a sinner, a real sinner – and death has the power to make us, well, dead. Words of men cannot change the reality of our condition, no matter how hard they try!
Christ came to save sinners But now we hear something else, a new thing that boggles the mind a new Word of God that lifts our hearts up out of the despair and hopelessness of death to the very heights of heaven itself. Listen! “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.”
Dear friends in Christ, that means something. That means something to you and to those who have departed this life connected to Christ and His forgiveness. Christ forgives sinners and makes sinners His saints, His holy ones. That means you. That means the gifts that your Lord Jesus gives out to you don’t stop at the grave. That means that a 6′ hole in the ground, or a mausoleum, or vault, can’t stop you any more than a garden tomb stopped Jesus. There is not a hole deep enough, wide enough, dark enough, terrifying enough to stop you from receiving God’s gift of heaven wrapped up and given to you in Jesus Christ. Your Christ came to save sinners… real sinners; horrible sinners, sinners exactly like you and me. He came to save you and those who have gone on before you. His holy body absorbed real and horrible sins … yours, the whole of them, the whole world of them, and died with them on the cross.
Now death can no longer hold us in its deadly grip forever. Now His holy Baptism cleanses real died-in-the-wool sinners … you, without spot or wrinkle. Now His holy Absolution speaks His genuine forgiveness to into the ears of actual God-hating, I’m-going-to-go-it-alone sinners… “In the stead and by the command of Christ I forgive you all of your sins. Go, you are free.” Now His holy Body and Blood are fed into the mouth real rebellious, I’ll do-it-my-way sinners … “Take, eat; take, drink—for you. Forgiveness and bodily resurrection for you.” And, because all of that is going on, because you are connected to Christ and Christ is connected to you, your grave is not your final resting-place. The grave may appear victorious when it wraps its cold, clammy hand over you …when it has swallowed up Isaiah, John, Matthew …when it swallowed up your loved one …when it threatens to swallow up you but that great Swallower has itself been swallowed up in Christ. Christ has died for you. Your Christ is risen from the dead! And this very Son of God has told us He is going to heaven ahead of us to prepare a place for us. That is why you and all the faithful departed in Christ are not going to hell. Because Jesus has declared that heaven is your home.
Heaven is your home. Today we remember with joy those who have gone on before us in the faith. We miss those we love, but we celebrate that heaven is their home. Already they look upon the face of their blessed Christ in heaven. Already they have passed from death into the life that runs on forever. That is their great God-gift in Christ Jesus … just as it will be yours, dear Christian, just as it will be yours, for you are the beloved of God. We remember and give thanks and praise to our God this day “For all the saints who from their labors rest, All who by faith before the world confessed the forever-blessed name of Jesus.” We remember and give thanks for the grace of God poured out upon all that have gone this year to be with the Lord. We remember and give thanks for our Christ-blessed husbands, and wives, our mothers, and fathers, our brothers and sisters, our children; loved ones, and friends who have gone before us. We remember and give thanks that our God gave them His word, the same Word He has for you and me. Listen: “Your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy.” Yes, Dear Christian, those words are true. Believe them, trust them, just like those who have gone before us; those words have your name written all over them.
There is a city that “does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.” In this city, this Holy Jerusalem faithful warriors find their rest. In this city, on Holy Mt. Zion, the Bride of Christ no longer waits for the coming of her Lord, but rests from her labors in the tender embrace of her Husband. In this city the distant triumphant song is heard calling streams of triumphant saints into the eternal presence of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
For all the saints the waiting time is over. But for you and me… for we who live by faith in our Groom yet unseen, our time of waiting continues. It is not easy, this time of waiting—this life we still must live. Sin still has its horrible way in us… its way of tearing and ripping at us in this life. Sin is still, day-by-day, walking us ever closer to that hole in the ground.
But, listen to me: If the saints in heaven teach us anything at all, it is this: Your Christ is everything. He is your Forgiver of sin. He is your Healer when you are ripped and torn. He is your Life when you walk ever closer to death. He is your Comfort in the time of that last cruel moment. He is your Light when you close your eyes in the darkness of death. He is your Door into the Garden of Paradise. Him…our Lord doing it all and giving you all. He is your everything… your strength, your courage, and your hope as you live out your forgiven life. He is your comfort, your courage, and your strength when you die.
He is all this, all for you. You who will certainly join “with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.”— one more voice in the heavenly choir; one more saint in heaven singing the ‘Holy-Holy-Holy’ with the saints on earth as our Lord Christ gives out His precious foretaste of paradise with His Body and Blood; one more person “whose name is written in the Lamb’s book of life” and will always be “eating from the tree of life”; one more “body [that] will rise, wake up and shout for joy!
And that is you, Dear Christian, by God’s grace a saint on earth on your way to being His saints in heaven. That is you.