Easter Celebration – 2019 LSB #’s 461:1-4, 741:1-6, 461:5-8
Text – Colossians 3:1-4
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, & your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.
FOLLOW JESUS — With an Easter Perspective on Death & Dying
On Death & Dying is the title of a book that once gained fame & notoriety for its author, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. For months on end she basked in the limelight as a guest on radio & TV talk shows. Her book had touched a raw nerve. It proved to be a source of irritation to funeral directors because she claimed that they often take advantage of vulnerable people.
But she also made a lot of ordinary people feel uncomfortable through bringing out into the open a subject that they prefer to sweep under the rug. Oprah Winfrey reopened the same subject by hosting some death-and-dying gurus on her talk show – Marianne Williamson, Deepak Chopra, & James van Praagh, just to mention a few.
We’re part of a society that goes to extremes to mask death & dying. People are unsure anymore where it leads. To annihilation? To reincarnation? To confrontation with God? They tend to dismiss the prospect of hell, but then who knows? Heaven seems like a neat prospect, but maybe that’s just wishful thinking.
It’s the nagging uncertainty that colors the perspective many people have on death & dying. Easter offers those who follow Jesus a very different perspective. God’s people are not plagued by a nagging uncertainty. They don’t shake in their boots at the prospect of death & dying. They can contemplate death just as they do life – with calm serenity & bold confidence.
Today we’re calling that An Easter Perspective on Death & Dying. According to St. Paul, Easter’s perspective is three-dimensional. There’s something past, something present, &
something future. With the thoughts of the Apostle Paul on those subjects we FOLLOW JESUS - With an Easter Perspective on Death & Dying.
When we talk about life & death, we always do it in that order - life first, then death. We talk about life-and-death issues or a life-and-death struggle. But if you were listening carefully to Paul’s words, you may have noticed that he turns the two around. Paul talks about death & life rather than life & death. From an Easter perspective, he does so quite properly.
Paul’s words are an encouragement for us to set our hearts on things above, not on earthly things. Then he states the reason for doing so: “For you died.” The way Paul sees it, death is not a future prospect for us. It has already occurred. It’s in the past. That’s what happens to us at our baptism, he explained in the previous chapter of this letter.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul makes that same point, but explains himself more fully. “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” He means that “we were buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead…” (Romans 6:3-4) We’ll pick up the rest of it later.
For now, notice what he’s saying – Jesus died & was stuck away in a tomb. Your baptism means that you died along with Jesus & were stuck away in His tomb with him. That’s how God sees things. He sees your death & burial as something that has already taken place in connection with Christ’s death & burial.
We’re talking about your original nature, about the person you were before God adopted you as His child. That is part of what being “in Christ” is about. Here’s a quote from Luther to show how he emphasized this important truth:
“If we have been baptized in Christ’s death, we have also died & been buried. We are already shoveled into the grave! That’s something sweet & lovely to hear, that Christ’s death is my grave in which I have now been buried.” How’s that for a perspective on death & dying? No need for nagging uncertainty about your death, is there? It’s already happened! No need to shake in your boots at the prospect of something that’s in the past.
Now then, if that is the past, what is the present? Paul answers, “For you died, & your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” Note that little word “now.” He’s talking about what’s in the present – a new life hidden with Christ. Just as your baptism connects you with Christ’s death & burial, so also your baptism unites you with His resurrection & His life.
Back to that Romans passage quoted in part moments ago. After saying that we were buried with Christ through baptism, Paul continues, “…just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” And to make sure there’s no misunderstanding, Paul adds:
“If we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.” (Romans 6:5 ESV) As God sees things, you entered the grave with Jesus on Good Friday & you came out of it with Him on Easter Sunday. Your Creator has given you a new life to live right now – in the present – every day of your life.
What kind of a life is that? Paul wrote, “If then you have been raised with Christ (an accomplished fact), seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” Then for the sake of emphasis, he repeats what he said: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:1-2 ESV)
You have been given a life that is hidden with Christ in God. Your choices, your attitude, & your lifestyle will reflect that every day. Here’s what that means. Faith conquers doubt; hope prevails over despair, confidence over worry, optimism over pessimism, joy over a sour outlook. Your Easter perspective is what determines whether your life is a smile or a frown, an upper or a downer. One person whose life is a compelling reflection of the Easter perspective is Joni Eareckson Tada. She’s a quadriplegic as a result of a swimming accident when she was a teenager. She’s also an artist who paints by holding the brush between her teeth & moving her head. A noted speaker says of her:
“Twice it’s been my privilege to introduce Joni. Each time I’ve ventured to predict that her message would show her to be the healthiest person in the building – a prediction which so far as I could judge, came true both times.” She has true life in Christ, yet to the eyesight of many it’s hidden behind a crippled body.
We can learn from Joni about what has true value & what is nothing but tinsel. We can learn to set our hearts on things above. When we do, we’re living out our new life in Christ, however hidden it may be. That is Paul’s answer to the question, “What’s present about an Easter perspective?” It’s a new life now though “hidden with Christ in God.”
Now for the last, what is future about an Easter perspective on death & dying? “When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” (Colossians 3:4 ESV) That’s the bottom line of Easter, the ultimate meaning of that phrase “in Christ.”
Jesus is coming back again as He promised; not in humility as the 1st time, but in glory the likes of which the world has never seen. You & I will be there to witness it. So will everyone else who’s ever lived, because Easter is going to repeat itself billions of times. Every grave on the face of the earth will open & release its occupant.
It’ll be the spectacle to end all spectacles. No more hidden life, & all those who found their life in Christ here will share in His glory forever. What a way to wrap up Paul’s three-dimensional Easter perspective. It includes a death that has already occurred – yours; a new life now, although hidden with Christ in God – that’s yours too; & a life of endless glory with Jesus when He appears again. As a closing illustration, here’s a story from a nursing home visit I did during my vicarage. The man’s name was Mark & since we hadn’t met before I knew nothing about him except his name & room #. But right from the start things were a bit unusual.
Where I grew up, the name Mark wasn’t common until shortly before my generation, so I was expecting a much younger man. He was in his 80’s. Adding to the circumstances, he already had visitors, his daughter & son-in-law, but they said I shouldn’t mind, they’ll just sit & listen. After Mark & I talked about 15 minutes, I noticed that both of them were starting to cry.
As I went about giving communion, their weeping became more pronounced, so I was beginning to feel very uncomfortable. I was concerned that I was doing something inappropriate as this was one of my 1st communion visits with a shut-in. Then, as I finished the visit they both thanked me & seemed appreciative that I’d been there.
About a month later, Mark passed away. The day of the funeral I finally heard the children’s side of the story about that visit. For months previous to his death, he’d been in the hospice program & medication which included morphine. His children hadn’t had a lucid conversation with him for some time, & they had never heard him confess his faith in Jesus.
Their father had been one of those crusty old men, uncomfortable with sharing his feelings or even his faith. They were very concerned about where their father would spend eternity. Yet, in that 15 minute conversation with me, & during the order of communion, Mark was completely rational. He also talked clearly about his faith in Jesus Christ.
What a blessing that was for his children. God had lifted a huge burden of fear from their shoulders & they were grateful. That new perspective on their father’s death & dying was all made possible when Jesus rose victorious that 1st Easter morning. The Easter perspective on death & dying allowed them hope for meeting their father again in the next life; a life where their relationship will be perfect & completely free of fear. Nothing more will be hidden. The Easter perspective on death & dying holds just as glorious a promise for your future. Do not be afraid! Because Christ lives, you also will live. What a powerful motivation that is for us to continue following Jesus every day until we join our risen Lord in everlasting glory. Amen.
I am flesh & must return to the dust, whence I am taken; but by faith I now discern that from death I shall awaken with my Savior to abide in His glory at His side. Then take comfort & rejoice, for His members Christ will cherish. Fear not, they will hear His voice; dying, they will never perish; for the very grave is stirred when the trumpet’s blast is heard. Amen. LSB 741:4.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet