Christ Has Indeed Been Raised: A Funeral Sermon
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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
I must admit right up front: I’ve only known Alvin for about six months. So I never had the opportunity to meet him in the active years of his life. I never had the chance to get to know the man who was your Dad, Grandpa, Great-Grandpa, or friend. I don’t have any personal memories to share with you.
While I’m sorry that I never had that chance, in some ways I consider it an advantage as I speak to you today, because although it’s helpful to be able to personalize the message, a funeral sermon (as all sermons) should be focused on Christ and not the Christian. It should tell us what Jesus has done to seek and save lost sinners like Alvin and you and me. Realizing our time together was limited, we focused on matters that are eternal. And I was very fortunate to have time to visit with Alvin about his Christian faith. When He was no longer able to come to church I had the privilege to bring church to him in Word and Sacrament.
The Christian funeral is a public service of the Church. It is a public confession of the faith concerning death, burial, resurrection, and the life hereafter. The funeral service, then, is the public proclamation of the marvelous and gracious works of our great God and Savior, Jesus, applied to the specific situation. In the service, we join the saints and angels, the Church in heaven and on earth, in giving thanks to the Lord Jesus for the gifts He has won and delivered to us in His death and for the comfort Christians find in the resurrection.
The human body is God’s creation. God Himself took on flesh and bone in Jesus to redeem the world. The Holy Spirit sanctifies the Christian, body and soul, in Baptism, in the hearing of God’s Word, and in the communion of Christ’s life-giving body and blood in the Sacrament. For this reason, Christians bury their dead in the sure and certain promise of the resurrection of the body.
How different this is from the way the rest of the world operates! There is a philosophy of life that’s been proclaimed in every age in many and various ways. It’s based upon the assumption that the life that we now live is all that there is—that there’s nothing after you die. In the first century B.C., the Roman poet, Horace, wrote “Carpe Diem” – “Seize the day.” In the 1960s, Peggy Lee asked, “Is That All There Is?” and then answered her own question with, “if that’s all there is, my friends, then let’s keep dancing—let’s break out the booze and have a ball.” In the 1970s, Schlitz Brewing Company told us: “You only go around once in this life, so you’ve got to go for all the gusto you can.”
The common theme is the assumption that when we die, everything ends—that the body dissolves into its basic elements, the spirit evaporates, and the soul ceases to exist. No one, according to this nihilistic belief system, experiences any sort of afterlife. Neither heaven nor hell exists. It all just ends. So, we should indulge ourselves, enjoying every moment of this life because that is all there is.
We may be surprised to discover this same possibility being offered in the Bible. In 1st Corinthians 15, St. Paul writes: “If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (v. 32), echoing what Isaiah had written over 700 years earlier (22:13). That statement may surprise us until we realize that it’s a conditional statement... a contrary-to-fact statement. Led by the Holy Spirit, St. Paul carefully chose those words to focus on the doctrine of the resurrection—a foundational teaching of Christianity—a truth sadly and tragically ignored, even cowardly denied by many who are called to be pastors and teachers, for its neglect leaves us without any sort of real hope and comfort in times like today.
Death is certainly no stranger to us. Every day we’re confronted with death in our newspapers and on our television screens. Each day, we’re reminded of the departure of loved ones. This week, it’s the death of Alvin Langner, and next week it will be... well, only God knows who. It could be you or me.
With this in mind, we do well to reaffirm the truth of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and, consequently, our own resurrection. This morning we do so on the basis of our text, 1 Corinthians 15:19-20: “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”
Two words in our text stand out. They’re both small words, but they pack a lot of wallop. The two words are “if” and “but.” First, we consider the word, “if.” If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
In Paul’s discussion of Christ’s resurrection, this “if” is huge—a balance upon which the faith hangs. If Christ has not been raised from the dead, then the message of Christianity is empty. Churches have no proclamation to make except, well, except for: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”
If Easter morning is a lie, then the holy Christian Church into which Alvin was baptized on June 19, 1922 has no real reason for existing. If Jesus is still buried in a tomb, then your faith is futile. If Jesus has not been raised from the dead, then I have no words of comfort for you here today.
Paul summed up what the consequences are in our text. “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” Permit me to paraphrase that rather roughly: If, only in this life that lasts some 70, 80, or 90 years... if it’s only for this life marked by disease and tragedy we’ve placed our hope in Christ, we are the most miserable men and women who’ve ever walked the face of this earth. If Christ is not risen, then what we’re advocating is silliness. The height of futility and folly for us Christians would be to lay on our deathbeds, and in the last hour inhale our final breath while holding onto an illusion. A Christianity without a risen Christ and without the certain hope of our own bodily resurrection is the worst sort of religion, the worst possible fraud. Yes, if in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
Thank God for the next little word in our text—“but.” While “if” leads us to despair, this little word “but” makes all the difference in this world as well as in the next world. It’s a “marvelous however” that causes everything to turn completely around. “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead.”
Christ is risen! The Son of God, who died the sin-atoning death on the cross for all people, is alive! The tomb, where they placed His lifeless body, is empty! This is objective truth. It’s historical fact. And whether it’s believed or not, it’s true. Christ is risen and we’re no longer in our sins. His resurrection proves that the Father accepted His sacrificial death as the payment for the sins of the world.
Salvation is made yours in Holy Baptism. The promises that the Lord gives you in Baptism give you great comfort and peace in the face of death. That’s why, from beginning to end, the funeral liturgy is full of baptismal images, language, and Scripture texts. Why such an emphasis on Baptism? It is in this Sacrament that the Lord forgives your sin, covers your shame, takes away the sting of death, and dispels the darkness of the grave. In Baptism, you are declared to be a child of the heavenly Father, and heaven your sure inheritance.
In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray for God to deliver us from evil. The Small Catechism explains we pray in that petition, “that our Father in heaven would rescue us from every evil of body and soul... and finally, when our last hour comes, give us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven.” For each one of us... day by day… one at a time... God answers such a prayer. And, just like Alvin, we also will fall asleep in Christ. But that’s not the end! Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who’ve fallen asleep. What Jesus said is true: “This is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 11:25). Remember these words. Inscribe this promise on your heart as you prepare daily for your own death.
As I said before, our text has two important little words: “if” and “but.” But there’s a third word that ties these thoughts together: “therefore.” If Christ were not raised our faith would be useless. But He has been raised. Therefore we have hope, an unshakeable confidence in the sure and certain promises of our Lord.
Therefore, we know that this life is not the end of existence, but rather, the prelude to eternity. At the time of your death, your lifeless body will be laid in the ground, but your soul will be taken to be in God’s presence in Paradise.
Therefore, even more importantly, you know that on the Last Day, Christ will return and raise your body from the dead. And you, and all believers, will live with the Lord with a glorious, resurrected body and a sinless soul for eternity.
Therefore, you may commend your bodies and souls and all things into the hands of the Lord... and say boldly, “Lord, now lettest Thou, Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy Word, for mine eyes have seen Thy Salvation which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people.”
Therefore, the message of the Church is Christ crucified and risen for you. It is a vital message, the basis for your Christian faith. And, it is also an inviting message, one which today you’re being encouraged to consider carefully.
If you’re not a Christian, please think carefully about all that you’ve heard this day. Are you going to live with the vain philosophy of just living for today? Or, will you take refuge in Jesus and His suffering on your behalf and for your eternal good? The
high the cross and proclaims His message of love, peace, hope, and forgiveness
to all the world—you included. church
of Jesus Christ
If you’re already a Christian, then your call is to do what Christians have done throughout the centuries... remain faithful unto death ... live in your Baptism through daily contrition and repentance… believe, trust, and confess this Good News until you’re called to be with the Lord: For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven of all your sins.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.