7th Sunday after Epiphany – C LSB #’s 912, 490, 645
Text – 1 Corinthians 15:42-44a
So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
RAISED IN GLORY
As I was growing up, it was a springtime ritual, just before Memorial Day, to head off to the cemeteries for cleaning around the family gravesites. The debris from the winter snows would be cleared away. The ground would be worked & flowers planted. The ritual was performed out of a sense of duty & respect for the final resting place of those buried there.
However, that springtime ritual also provided a time to reflect upon the lives of, & the blessings received through the efforts of, the family members whose earthly remains are resting there. Gravesites can help to make a connection with the past, & human personalities are much more balanced if they have a positive sense of connection to their past.
As a child I wasn’t aware of any of that, yet somehow I sensed the importance of that ritual. It created in me a desire to know what my connection was to what had passed already before I was born. In my youth, there was only one grandparent buried there, but since that grandfather had passed away before I arrived, I knew nothing of him from personal experience.
The few memories I have are from the stories told about him. Even pictures of him are few & far between. The connections to that part of my past are also few & far between.
So, as my father would be working around the cemetery, I used to look at the tombstone & wonder what my grandfather had been like. What kind of man had he been? Would we have been friends? Would we have shared jokes with one another? Would he have taught me things like the carpentry he used to practice?
The tombstone never answered. It remained silent, quietly mocking the questions of a
young child. Yet, I have special memories of those trips to St. John’s cemetery. Apparently, that springtime ritual established a connection to the past for me. That connection has gone with me wherever I have lived, & I still cherish it.
What connections might you have with those who’ve gone on before you? What do you know & understand of your past that guides you in the present? PAUSE
Pictures of cemeteries often focus on the orderly appearance of row after row of tombstones, all lined up, one after the other. It’s as if they are marching in a grand procession toward eternity. If you consider the world’s history, the events which have unfolded one after the other throughout time, you’ll also see a grand procession of life that leads but to the grave.
Reading the 5th chapter of Genesis we see it put in some very stark terms:
“Altogether, Adam lived 930 years, & then he died. Altogether, Seth lived 912 years, & then he died. Enosh lived 905 years, & then he died. Kenan lived 910 years, & then he died. Mahalalel, & then he died. Jared, & then he died. Methuselah, & then he died. Lamech, & then he died.”
Moses is hammering the point. The wages of sin is death, & Moses is making, for us, a connection with our past. A past filled with the unavoidable reality of death. Adam brought sin into our world & thus all men die. That is our inheritance from Adam. Our own tombstones mock us, silently bearing witness to the death that will come.
But we need that connection with our past, gruesome as it may be, in order to instruct us of our inability to please God & our inability to add even one hour to our lives through our own strength or ingenuity. The events of our lives too, marching along one after the other, can be viewed as but a grand procession towards death.
That brings a grim & hopeless picture to mind. That’s why so many people avoid even
the mention of the word death. That’s why people stay away from hospitals, nursing homes & cemeteries, because at those places it can be extremely difficult to avoid the subject. However, our Savior, Jesus Christ did not avoid death. He confronted it on our behalf.
Even Moses, in the 5th chapter of Genesis, does not leave us with only the words, “and then he died.” That rhythm of death, that rhythm of punishment, is broken by these words. “Altogether, Enoch lived 365 years. Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.”
Moses gives you an example of eternal life in the midst of this narrative on death. In spite of the grand procession of death, there is hope for us. In spite of appearances, for those who walk with God, death is not the final answer. The Resurrection IS. And so today’s text emphasizes that those who follow Jesus will be “raised in glory.”
A grain of wheat that’s planted in the ground bears no visual resemblance to the plant that emerges. Yet that stalk of wheat is connected to its past. It carries the same genetic code as the seed which was buried. Likewise, our resurrected bodies will be so glorious, so different from what they are now, that it will be like comparing a grain of wheat to the stalk that emerges.
There’ll be continuity, in that it’ll be our own body which God raises up for us. We will have a connection to our past, yet it will be a very different body at the same time. It will be incorruptible, glorious & powerful. We’ll leave behind even the possibility of being corrupted, dishonored or weakened.
All of us have more experience than we care to of our natural bodies: false teeth or hair, makeup or cologne, loosening skin yet joints tightened up with arthritis. In this life we wear the image of Adam, & in today’s text, Paul reminds us that Adam was created of the dust of the earth. Paul is recalling the words of Genesis 3, “For you are dust & to dust you shall return.” The only language that a tombstone speaks is the silent one of death. The hopes & the dreams, the doubts & the weakness that we bury there all turn to dust. Though we may care for the gravesite out of duty & respect, sin has destroyed those hopes, those dreams & that life as we conceive of it.
But then, Paul declares that in the next life, we shall wear the image of Christ, the man of heaven. When the Holy Spirit, the Lord & giver of life, raises our natural body, it will take on an entirely different form as we’re given a spiritual body as He has determined.
It’s that spiritual body which we long for as we confess in the Nicene Creed, “and I look for the resurrection of the dead & the life of the world to come.” Jesus is the heavenly prototype of that new creation; that new life to come. He recreates our hopes & our dreams. He will bring a future far more glorious than our past.
While we’re still on this earth, Christ has given His body & His blood to strengthen us. He means to preserve our faith in Him as the hope for eternal life. For Jesus knows that there are many fears & doubts in this life aside from the grave. The devil would use those doubts & fears also to draw us away from our true Savior.
Satan would have us sever our connection with the past – the Godly relationship created in the waters of our baptism. So at funerals as well as baptisms, we recite the Apostle’s Creed in order to remind us of our status as children of the Almighty God.
Some churches light a candle at funerals as a reminder of the candle that was lit at baptism. Other churches cover the casket with a white cloth to remind people of the white baptismal gown that many families used to pass down from generation to generation.
The color white signifies the robe of righteousness that all believers wear even now as a gift from our brother & Savior Jesus Christ. That robe of righteousness is a picture of the new & glorious body which we will wear at the Resurrection. The wonderful changes anticipated then shouldn’t be all that surprising. After all, at creation, God spoke & things came into existence out of nothing. At the Resurrection, God will speak again.
Then, no more shall we be clothed in the filthy rags of our sins. For when Christ returns we shall be raised in glory to see Him face to face with our own eyes.
I haven’t visited the grave of my father’s parents for many years now. I hope that’s because I’ve come to grips with the reality of the past & of my own death to come. I am certain that Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, holds them both in His hands. And I know this – being in the hands of Jesus is a glorious place to be. Amen.
Jesus lives, the vict’ry’s won! Death no longer can appall me; Jesus lives! Death’s reign is done! From the grave will Christ recall me. Brighter scenes will then commence; this shall be our confidence. Amen. LSB 490:1.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet