SERMONS - APRIL 2010
4 April 2010 - Easter - Luke 24:1–12
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
As I get older, it is increasingly difficult for me to remember things. This is especially so when there is nothing in the course of a normal day’s activities that would serve to jog my memory, or to remind me of what it is that I am trying to remember.
It’s hard to remember unusual things that are disconnected from the ordinary experiences we have in this life.
One of the important things that people of all ages tend to forget is the standard of right and wrong that God has given us in the Ten Commandments and elsewhere in Scripture. Through the prophet Malachi God declared: “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.”
But we, like the people of Israel before us, do not remember God’s law. And one of the reasons why we forget is because the world in which we live, and the influences that daily impress themselves upon us, do not remind us of God’s commandments. In fact, just the opposite is the case.
We live in a society that is constantly promoting a lifestyle of self-indulgence. In the ethical decisions we make, we are told by the children of our age to follow our hearts - our sinful hearts - not God’s Word.
There is almost nothing around us in this world that would serve to remind us that God actually wants us to live according to totally different set of values.
The Ten Commandments do not say that we should live our life by fulfilling our own short-sighted wishes and selfish impulses. They teach instead that God’s honor is to be paramount in the ethical decisions we make in life.
And they teach that our thoughts, words, and actions are to be governed, not by our own self-centered ambitions, but by the needs of our neighbor, and by the obligations we have toward others - in family and society - according to our respective callings.
But again, there is virtually nothing in the world in which we live, with its sinful corruption and godlessness, that would remind us of this. And so we forget.
When we are faced with an ethical challenge - when we are put into a situation where need to make a decision about what to do, or what not to do - we so often do not remember what God’s law has said about the matter with which we are struggling.
We are morally confused and emotionally perplexed. Sometimes it doesn’t even cross our minds that we should focus our thoughts, at those challenging times, on how God would want us to proceed.
And when we forget what God has said about something, we usually end up acting, or speaking, or thinking, in a way that is contrary to what God has said.
We suffer because of this forgetfulness. Those who are hurt as a result of our bad decisions likewise suffer because of this forgetfulness. And God, our loving creator, is grieved because of this forgetfulness.
In today’s text from St. Luke we see another kind of forgetfulness regarding God’s Word that also often afflicts us - in the way that it afflicted the women who went to Jesus’ tomb early on the first Easter morning. We read:
“On the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.”
“While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened..., the men said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.’”
As members of Jesus’ larger band of disciples, the women had previously been told by Jesus that he would die in Jerusalem, and also that he would rise from the grave on the third day. Jesus had tried to explain these things to his disciples on at least a few different occasions.
But his disciples - including these women - could never understand what he was really talking about.
Their salvation - and the salvation of all men - would require the suffering and death of the Lamb of God in humanity’s place. And ultimately, the way in which Jesus would be and remain with them, as their companion and Lord, would be as a divine victor over death and the grave, and not simply as a man who had avoided death and the grave.
But the disciples, including the women among them, had never fully grasped what all of this could possibly mean. For these women, what Jesus said went contrary to everything these women had ever experienced.
There was virtually nothing in their everyday life that would have helped them to remember such strange predictions and promises on the part of the Lord. They had known lots of people who had died. But these people had stayed dead.
One would think, of course, that as followers of Jesus, they would have been aware of his resuscitation from death of Jairus’s daughter, of the son of the widow of Nain, and of Lazarus. But even if they were aware of these miracles, these extraordinary events still didn’t make enough of an impact on them so as to cause them to remember the Lord’s promise about his own resurrection.
And so, they forgot what Jesus had said. And because they forgot, they were confused and perplexed when they saw that his body was gone from the tomb.
It was only when the angels repeated to them their Master’s previous statements, that they then recalled the Lord’s promises. Only then did the empty tomb make sense to them. Only then did they believe in the resurrection.
St. Luke goes on to tell us, “And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest.”
Liberal Biblical scholars and historical-critics approach the Bible with certain assumptions that are based on their common experiences in this world. Because of these empirically-based assumptions, the Scriptural accounts of miracles in general, and of the bodily resurrection of Christ in particular, are immediately considered by most of these scholars to be myths, and not real history.
Such things did not really happen, it is assumed, because such things don’t happen today. These scholars suffer from collective spiritual forgetfulness.
We can perhaps sympathize with their skepticism, at least to a certain degree, because there is indeed nothing in humanity’s ordinary experience in this world that would serve to remind people of the resurrection of Christ, or that would prompt people to believe that it did really happen.
But it’s not just liberal scholars who fail to remember the Lord’s resurrection. There’s really nothing in the common earthly experience of any of us that would, in itself, remind us of Jesus’ ancient promise that he would rise from the dead, or that would remind us that he did in fact rise from the dead.
You and I don’t believe that the Easter story is true because of all the reminders in our worldly environment that confirm this story, or that help us not to forget it. We believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day in spite of the fact that there is nothing in our everyday earthly experience that would prompt us to think that it really did happen.
We, too, have known a lot of people who have died. And they have all stayed dead.
Like the women at the tomb on the first Easter, we, too, would forget this story - this story of God’s victory over sin and death for us - if we were not continually reminded of it in some other, supernatural way.
We would not remember that Jesus successfully accomplished everything that needed to be done for our forgiveness and salvation, and we would not remember that he is alive even now - as the living Lord of his church - if God did not find some other-worldly way to remind us of these momentous truths.
But he has found a way to keep this extraordinary and miraculous faith alive among us. He has found a way to help us to continue to believe in things that otherwise would seem foolish or impossible.
What he does for us, and for our faith, is essentially what he did for the women at the tomb - to whom the angels spoke. God renews the words of Jesus also to us, through messengers whom he has appointed for this purpose.
In what is often called our Lord’s “high-priestly prayer,” which he prayed to God the Father soon before his arrest and crucifixion, Jesus spoke these words in regard to his apostles:
“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.”
God’s Word, which is Christ’s Word, is indeed the truth. And the truth of God’s Word is confirmed and sealed supernaturally, by the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, in the hearts and minds of those who hear it and believe it.
This was how the apostles would be preserved in their resurrection faith after the Lord’s ascension - when they would no longer physically see him. And this is how your faith and my faith will likewise be preserved and renewed, whenever we might be tempted to forget the great salvation that has been won for us on the blood-stained cross, and in the empty tomb.
And so, Jesus goes on to pray also for us - and for all the countless generations of Christians who have, in God’s strength, staked their lives, and their eternal souls, on the truth of their Savior’s death and resurrection. He said: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.”
The word of the apostles is what we heard a few minutes ago, in the New Testament account of the Lord’s rising from death. The word of the apostles is what we hear every Sunday in this place, where we gather to be reminded of eternal realities, and of things that are most certainly true.
Because Jesus rose from the dead, you are able to know that God did indeed accept his Son’s sacrificial death on your behalf as a sufficient ransom price for your transgressions. Therefore you are forgiven, for all those times when you forgot God’s law, and sinned again it.
Because Jesus rose from the dead - for you - you are able to know that the grave will now not hold you either, and that on the last day you will rise in Christ to live forever. And if there is a hope like this for you after you physically die, there is also joy for you as you yet live, and as you are filled even now with the peace of God that passes all understanding.
In God’s providence, we have been gathered here today - more so than on other Sundays - to be reminded of the Lord’s resurrection. And as we are thus reminded by God’s Word, we do remember, and we believe. And we rejoice!
Without God’s Word, we would not remember. There would be nothing in our earthly experience otherwise, to cause us to believe that this really happened. Like the women at the tomb, we would forget.
But we are not without God’s Word. Indeed, on every Lord’s Day, which is a little Easter for us each week, we hear God’s Word, which speaks to us of the resurrected Lord, and of what that Lord has done and still does to save us.
And as we hear this angelic message - this apostolic message - we are reminded that it is true. We know that it is true.
Our sins are forgiven, and no longer separate us from God. And Jesus is alive among us, in his Word, and especially in his sacrament - where his resurrected body and blood are placed within us, as a gracious pledge and down-payment of our own future resurrection.
“And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel.”
“And as they were frightened..., the men said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.’ And they remembered his words.” Amen.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
18 April 2010 - Easter 3 - John 21:1-19
We are all familiar with the boastful statement that Peter made, soon before Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, that he would never fall away or deny Jesus. And we know, of course, that Jesus then told Peter that he would in fact deny him three times before the rooster crowed. And that is what happened.
This story illustrates the personal pride of Peter at this point in his life. But it also serves to demonstrate how insensitive Peter was to the feelings of others, and how easy it was for him to stumble into offending and insulting his fellow disciples.
On that occasion, Peter said: “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” Why did he feel the need to put down the other disciples, and belittle their loyalty and love for Christ, in order to exalt himself?
I’m sure the other disciples didn’t appreciate that gratuitous, insulting remark. They probably wished at that moment that Peter would just bug off, and leave them alone, if he thought he was so superior to them.
Jesus, of course, had a different plan for Peter, and for his relationship with the other disciples. He said this to Peter:
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”
Peter’s sin was typical of human sin in general. It was much like our sins - the ones we commit every day, in our pride.
Like Peter’s sin, our sins usually start out as very self-centered and personal. But then they branch out, and cause pain and offense to those around us.
The people we are actually supposed to be serving and helping according to our callings - in our family, in our place of study or work, and in our church - are more often than not the primary recipients of this grief. We’re like self-absorbed children twirling and dancing and running around in play, bumping into people and knocking things over, without realizing what kind of stress and disruption we’re causing.
Peter, as the leader among the apostles, was supposed to be strengthening his brothers in their faith, and guiding them through their time of trial by reminding them of Jesus’ teachings and promises. But instead, he was insulting the other disciples, and casting aspersions on their faithfulness.
As we know, Peter was indeed overcome by fear during the trial of Jesus. And when his empty bluster gave way to the real possibility that he, too, might be arrested and crucified, Peter did what he claimed he would never do. He denied that he knew his Savior.
When he then reflected on what he had done, Peter wept bitterly. He was humiliated, and ashamed, and embarrassed at every level.
He had betrayed his Lord. He had betrayed his friends. He had betrayed his own manhood and self-respect. He could barely live with himself.
But I say “barely,” because Peter did not descend into the kind of despair that prompted Judas to take his own life - after he, too, had betrayed Jesus in his own way. Judas’s despair was actually a manifestation of his continuing pride.
He killed himself, in part, because he was too proud to face the other disciples after what he had done. He was too proud to go through the experience of feeling their disdain and indignation - which is what he certainly would have expected from them.
In his misguided and blinding pride, suicide was seen as a way of escape. It was seen as a way of avoiding the embarrassment of having to admit his fault, and of undergoing the humiliation that this admission would entail.
And so, in taking his own life, Judas removed himself from having to go through this kind of uncomfortable encounter with his former friends. It probably never crossed his mind, but, sadly, he also thereby removed himself from the chance to know and experience their forgiveness - and through them, his Savior’s forgiveness.
When we sin against God and against our neighbor, and when we then come to a point of realizing what fools we have made of ourselves in the presence of others, we are also tempted to try to find a way of escape like this.
We don’t take our own lives, of course. But we do things that would have the same effect, as far as our embarrassment before others is concerned.
In our shame over having offended and hurt family members, we might avoid spending time with those family members, so that we won’t have to endure their expressions of disappointment with us. In our remorse over having caused disruptions in a church, perhaps we stop going, and either stay home or switch to another church.
In one way or another, when we are humbled by an awareness of how badly we have behaved, we may try to find a way of escape from the disapproval of those we have hurt. We feel bad enough as it is. We don’t want them to rub it in even more, and make us feel even worse.
We want to forget about the shameful things we have done, and put those things out of our minds. And so we avoid the people and the places that would remind us of these sins, and that would dredge up those feelings of remorse all over again.
But Peter did not react in this way. After he came to a point of sorrow and deep regret over what he had done, he didn’t run and hide.
He gathered once again with the other disciples, and was willing to endure whatever criticisms and rebukes they would have been inclined to pour out on him. He deserved it, and would take it, no matter how bad it would make him feel.
In his penitence, Peter was no longer governed by pride - as Judas was, and as we often are in a similar situation. Peter faced his former friends. And as he did, he gave himself the opportunity to find out - much to his surprise, I would guess - that they weren’t actually his former friends at all!
They were still his friends, even after all the insulting nonsense he had spoken in regard to them. And as his friends - his friends in Christ - they forgave him, and took him back, and loved him as they had before.
Jesus also forgave Peter. The angel who spoke to the women at the tomb concerning the Lord’s resurrection told them to make a special point of bringing this news specifically to Peter: “go, tell his disciples - and Peter - that he is going before you to Galilee.”
Peter especially needed to know that Jesus’ payment for all sin was indeed accepted by God the Father, and that his sin would therefore not be held against him. And the angel, under God’s direction, saw to it that Peter would be assured of this.
The Easter Gospel is such an absolution for us, too. Even when we become deeply aware of how our sins have offended other people, so that we feel embarrassed to be around them later on, we need to remember that it is God whom we have chiefly offended by our wrongful words and deeds.
We should feel embarrassed to be around him, even more so than around the other people whom we have insulted and hurt. But of course, there’s no way to escape from God’s watchful gaze.
We’re stuck with our guilt and shame before him - that is, until the message of Easter, and of everything that Easter means for humanity - is proclaimed to us.
At a very personal level, the resurrection of Jesus Christ means that God the Father accepted the sacrifice that his Son had offered for our sins - for our callous insults, for our prideful boasting, for our cowardly failures.
Christ’s rising to life from death means that God has raised us up from our remorse and embarrassment, and has welcomed us back into his fellowship, and has given us another chance. And when God welcomes a penitent sinner back into his fellowship, for the sake of Christ, the church of God does likewise.
As God’s people gather around his pardoning and justifying Word, and as they are permeated by his healing and restoring Word, they know that there is still a place among them for those who are sorry for their hurtful statements and foolish actions.
The other disciples knew that they needed to welcome Peter back into their apostolic circle. And our Christian friends today - who are animated by the same spirit of love and mercy - will welcome us back.
When we stand before them, admitting our fault, and facing up to our shame, our faults will be forgiven in Christ. Our shame will be covered in Christ.
The righteousness of Christ covers over the unrighteousness of us all. Under that canopy of divine grace, our relationships with each other as Christians are defined by forgiveness and love.
We don’t cling to old animosities, or harbor old grudges. What God’s Word is about, as it does its proper work among us, is the healing and restoring of broken relationships, and the strengthening and deepening of strained relationships.
Our resurrected Savior, as he lives among us and watches over us, does not drive wedges between us. That’s what sin does!
But Jesus and his Gospel reverses this. He brings us together. He allows us to forget past offenses. He allows us to remember instead his suffering and death for us all.
That’s what is going on when we in faith listen together to the Lord’s absolution, as Jesus’ very personal message of forgiveness is proclaimed to us. That’s what is going on when we in faith receive together the Lord’s Supper, as the Lamb of God nurtures our resurrection hope with his own resurrected body and blood.
In the healing power of the Gospel, Peter was restored to the circle of apostles, who together were to be sent out as the first missionaries and pastors of the Christian church. He was restored to the ministry and office to which he had previously been called.
As Peter had denied Jesus three times, so too was he invited by Jesus - in today’s text - once again to embrace Jesus three times, and once again to embrace his calling as an apostle three times:
“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ He said to him a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’”
“He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ and he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.’”
Note especially the first question that Jesus asked, and the answer that Peter gave to that first question: “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” This was a test.
Was Peter still going to boast of his own greater faithfulness, while disparaging and belittling the faithfulness of the other apostles? Was he going to insult his friends, as he had done before?
Peter’s answer shows that he was not going to speak in that way. As far as we can tell from the Scriptures, he never spoke in that way again for the rest of his life.
He said: “‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Period. He didn’t say, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you more than they do.”
Instead, he simply confessed his own humble faith, and his own grateful love. He left a comparison to the other apostles completely out of his answer.
No more insults. No more boasting. What we see now is a heart that has been chastened by God’s law, and recreated by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Similar things happen among us, too. When we are forgiven, and restored to the fellowship of our Christian friends and relatives, we are also invited once again to serve them, according our callings, and in the Spirit of Christ.
As those who have been chastened because of our pride, and who have also been recreated into the image of Christ, we, like Peter, now serve in humility. In Christ, we don’t compare ourselves to others, and compare our work to the work of others, and then brag about the superiority of our service.
Instead, we keep our eyes on God’s Word, and on God’s calling in our lives. And in the power of Christ we serve as Christ served - in love, and according to the needs of our church, our family, and our world.
May God in his mercy grant this to us, even as he granted this to Peter. May God’s Son, in his forgiving love, teach each of us the important lessons he taught to Peter. May God’s Spirit give to each of us - as he gave to Peter - a new and humble heart. Amen.
25 April 2010 - Easter 4 - Revelation 7:9-17
Several months ago an old high school friend encouraged me to get onto Facebook. Facebook is an Internet networking site, originally designed to allow school classmates to stay in touch.
And I have indeed used Facebook to track down old friends from high school, college, and seminary, and to re-establish contact with them. In fact, this past Thursday I had lunch with an old college friend who has been living in Phoenix the whole time I have been living here.
But I never knew it, until Facebook allowed us to find each other. That has been great.
But my participation in Facebook has had its sadder side too. In just the past few months, two of my Facebook contacts have died.
One was a friend from childhood and high school, who was actually confirmed with me in the Lutheran church in my hometown. The other, who died just about a month ago, was a college friend of mine, and of Carol’s.
But here’s the poignant thing about the way this works on Facebook. Even though these people are now gone from this world, their Facebook pages are still up.
It’s as if they are still alive, still maintaining their pages and still checking their messages. And people who know that they are dead are still posting messages to them.
It seems to be a modern technological version of the old sentimental practice of going to a loved one’s grave in order to talk to that person - like the famous scene under the tree toward the end of the Forrest Gump movie.
It’s like an Internet equivalent of the practice in some religious traditions of allowing and even encouraging people to pray to the dead. But in reality, the death of a friend disrupts the interactive relationship that we had with that person.
In life, friends encourage one another in times of trial, and they rejoice with one another in times of happiness. My friend from college who died a month ago had previously been laid off from work because of the tumbling economy. We had written back and forth to each other about it - through Facebook.
The high school friend who died a couple months ago had used Facebook to ask for my prayers for her handicapped son. She was encouraged to know that an old confirmation classmate - who turned out to be a pastor - was praying for him.
But when each of these people passed away, they were cut off from the encouragement and support that they had previously been able to receive from their friends. Their friends can’t reach out to them any more. They no longer have access to the help and sympathy that their friends had given them.
To a lesser or greater degree, all of us yearn for the companionship of loved ones who have died. It is not easy to face up to the fact that we are no longer able to demonstrate to them our love and support, in such a way that they will know about it.
And there’s a part of us that wonders, perhaps, if they are O.K. now, since we are no longer able, by our own efforts and gestures, to make sure that they are O.K. We feel alone, not just because our loved ones are gone from our sight and embrace, but also because we are no longer able to do those things that we used to do, to show them that we do love them.
And maybe, as we reflect on some possible shortcomings in how we had treated them, we grieve now over not having a chance any longer to make it up to them. Perhaps we have deep regrets now, that we had not been as sensitive to our loved ones’ needs during their lifetime as we should have been. But, sadly, there’s nothing we can do about it now.
When we lose someone close to us, it’s often hard face up to the stark reality of what that means. And so, for a while at least, we might continue to talk to them at their place of burial, or post messages to them on their Facebook page. But eventually, we do have to admit to ourselves that death has indeed separated us from them.
Scripture tells us: “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” It also says: The sting of death is sin.”
Death truly is an enemy. And death is not just a reminder of sin and of the effects of sin. Death itself is, in a very significant way, a very real tragedy that is caused by sin.
Sin is the great separator. It separates the human race from God. That is its most tragic and most painful effect. But through death, which sin introduced into our human experience, sin separates us from each other too.
So, I’m not just talking about how death stalks us as individuals, and eventually catches up with each of us. I’m talking about the pain, and the sadness, and the separation that death causes in our valued relationships.
I’m talking about how death cuts us off from the people we care about. It brings to an end our ability to bring joy and peace to those whom it has wrenched away from us. It brings to an end to their ability to show goodwill and kindness toward us.
But you know, even in this life, our chief comfort is not the comfort that we give to each other: in our mutual expressions of human compassion, and in our mutual assurances to each other of our love and friendship. For us who have been baptized into Christ, and who live - as we live - in the hope of Christ, our chief comfort is the comfort that Christ gives.
In Christ God showed his unsurpassable compassion for us. He sent his Son into the human race, and to the cross, to rescue us from the guilt and power of sin, and to restore us to our fellowship with him forever.
And in his resurrection, Christ proves, and assures us of, his authority to forgive, and his power to save. And he does most certainly forgive us and save us now, by his Word of life. As Jesus does these things for us, he reveals himself to be a Good Shepherd.
In the Old Testament, before his incarnation, he was already the divine shepherd of Israel, who led his people through the wilderness and took care of them in his mercy. And now, he is the divine shepherd of his New Testament people - from every nation and language and tribe.
The Lord declares: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”
We do derive great satisfaction from the wholesome and rewarding relationships that we enjoy with other people in this world - our friends, our family members. But at the deepest level, it is not really we ourselves, in our own strength, who sustain and encourage each other in the midst of our trials.
As fellow Christians, who share a common baptism into the one body of Christ, we are simply the instruments of Christ in each other’s lives. Through us, and even more so through his Gospel and Sacraments, Christ Jesus is ultimately the one who sustains us and encourages us in our earthly walk.
His words of pardon and peace can accomplish so much more for your soul, than the words of human encouragement that your friends speak to you ever could. His sacramental embrace, and the covering of righteousness that he drapes over you as you cling to him, do so much more for your spiritual health, than any human advice or emotional support that your family members might offer to you.
Even when we are weak and confused and frightened in this life, Jesus is and remains our faithful Shepherd. He watches over us and protects us from spiritual danger.
With his curbing and convicting law, and with his cleansing and liberating gospel, he guides us through this life. And he prepares us for the time when we will leave this world, and enter into the next.
Ah, there it is again - what we were talking about at the beginning of the sermon: death, and those who are dead. But now we can talk about it in a different way.
Those who belonged to the Lord’s flock in this life remain as a part of that flock also in the next life. Jesus has given them eternal life, and they will never perish.
And Jesus is still watching over them in the heavenly realm, where their spirits now dwell, awaiting the resurrection on the last day. They are at rest in Christ.
Because all their sins were forgiven them, they are at perfect peace with God and with themselves. Whatever turmoil and suffering they endured in this world, has come to an end. And they will never taste of it again.
The Good Shepherd, whose blood washed away their sin, is taking care of them still. We don’t need to worry about them, or fear that they are in need of something from us that we are not able to give.
They are O.K. And you can rest assured that the separation from them that their death has brought is a temporary separation.
They still belong to the same flock to which you belong, even now. You cannot see them or hear them, but you are mystically united to them in the communion of saints, which transcends even the division between earth and heaven, between physical life and physical death.
And in the next life, they still have the same shepherd they had before, and that you have.
The Revelation to St. John, from which today’s second lesson is taken, speaks very comfortingly of these things. Even with the very picturesque language and the highly symbolic imagery of this unique Biblical book, the point that it makes in this respect is very clear.
Let us therefore conclude by simply listening together to a portion of this book - as taken from today’s lesson. And as we listen, let us pray that these sacred words would calm us in our lingering sadness, and soothe us in our loneliness, and build us up in our faith:
“Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, ‘Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?’ I said to him, ‘Sir, you know.’ And he said to me, ‘These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’”
“‘Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’” Amen.