"I believe... in the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting." We confess this every time we pray the Apostles' Creed. Yet the resurrection of the dead is one of the most neglected articles of our faith. Most people, even Christians, don't ever think of it. People think that when they die their soul goes to heaven and their body just wastes away never to be used again. People even get romantic ideas about having their ashes and ground up bones scattered to the wind, because they won't need them anymore. It's like that Cat Stevens song from 1970, "Miles from Nowhere" where he sings, "Lord, my body has been a good friend, but I won't need it when I reach the end."
But God's Son did not take on human flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, suffer the scourging of Pilate and the nails of the cross in his very flesh to save only our souls. Neither did Jesus rise from the dead merely as a spirit, but Jesus rose flesh, blood, bone, and all. He ate with his disciples after his resurrection even bidding Thomas to put his hands in the marks of the nails and spear. The eternal Son of the Father took on a human body and soul, so that he could save both your soul and your body from death. Jesus did not discard his body at death and neither will he discard your body.
Jesus came to earth to defeat our last and greatest enemy: death. Death is a fearsome enemy and although he is pretty much ubiquitous, he is widely ignored. People don't recognize death as a great enemy to be feared. Young people hardly ever fear death. They think they are invincible. Probably because, statistically speaking, they are rather hard to kill. Yet young people still die. Death pursues them all the way. And the elderly, as the pains and burdens of old age increase, often look at death as peaceful release from the pains of the body, which is true for the Christian, but many ignore faith in Christ even as death approaches.
But we need to recognize death as a fierce enemy, so that we will recognize the great work our Lord Jesus has done for us in defeating death. We need to recognize death for who he is: the wages of sin and the enemy of God's good creation. When God created the world, he created it good. He did not create us to die, because he is the God of the living. But through one man sin entered the world and death through sin. So now death rules through all for all have sinned. Death is the fruit of our sin. It is evil. Death must be defeated.
When Jesus saw the widow of Nain weeping behind the casket of her dead son, her only child, he had compassion on her. And so, we see a glimpse of our God's great compassion. You can also see why people loved Jesus so much even before they realized who he was. Jesus is moved by human suffering. We see a similar episode as Jesus is hanging on the cross, enduring not only immense physical pain, the likes none of us will ever see, but also great spiritual turmoil in his soul as he bears the weight of all our sins, and even there under such incredible personal pain Jesus shows compassion on his own mother and gives his disciple John to be her son and caretaker for the rest of her life. So, in this lesson we see that God is compassionate.
Then Jesus tells the husbandless mother of the dead man to stop weeping (which is not what you should say to a woman at her son's funeral, unless you can raise the dead). Of course, Jesus can and does raise the dead. He commands the dead man, and the dead man listens to him. He becomes alive! And Jesus gives the man back to his mother alive. And so, we see in this lesson that Jesus is God and that he has power over death. It is as the Psalmist says in Psalm 68, "Our God is a God of salvation, and to God, the Lord, belongs deliverances from death." (vs. 20)
Yet, this is just one man. Countless billions of people have died and likely will die. Can Jesus raise them as well? Is it a bit premature to celebrate when the score between Jesus and death is one to one hundred billion? But this isn't Jesus' big event. This is only a foreshadow of what is to come. Jesus shows here his power over death, but he is yet to administer his victorious blow. When will this great victorious event take place? On the cross. The sting of death is sin. Without sin there is no death. For Jesus to defeat death once and for all and finally restore God's good creation he must eradicate sin. Jesus does this by becoming sin for us. He bears the guilt and shame of all mankind. The iniquity of us all is placed upon him and by his stripes we are healed; healed from our sin, healed from death. It is as St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians chapter 15, "The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (vss. 56-57)
Jesus has a knack for ruining funerals. This was a perfect funeral. People were crying. There was a procession to the grave. There were pallbearers in front. And there was a dead guy! And then Jesus shows up uninvited. He raises the young man from the dead. The funeral comes to an abrupt end. You need a dead person to have a funeral. The funeral was ruined. I don't think anyone complained.
So, here's the question. Will Jesus be at your funeral? It is quite common these days for Jesus to be almost or entirely absent from funerals. Instead survivors give flattering eulogies for the deceased. Aunt Betty baked the best pies and knit a sweater for each of her grandkids every Christmas. Great uncle Fred was great with kids and everyone loved him, even if he hated kids and was a miserable person to be around. And they'll talk about what their dead loved one loved, animals, baking, hunting, NAS Car, the Hawkeyes, and maybe they'll mention a generic faith without going into details. But who will be noticeably absent from these funerals is Jesus. There won't be any talk of his death and resurrection or what Jesus has done for the deceased in Baptism and through the daily forgiveness of sins, nor any talk of the promise of the resurrection.
But it is important for Jesus to be at your funeral, because only Jesus has defeated sin and death and only Jesus can raise you from the dead. It is important for your body to be put to rest with Jesus' word and promise. And it is important for everyone at your funeral to hear what Jesus has done for you and that he will raise your dead remains from the ground and give you eternal life.
Of course, you need Jesus to be present with you before your funeral and the reason why many have Jesus absent from their funerals or the funerals of their loved ones is because Jesus has been absent from their life. They haven't heard his word or paid any attention to the wonderful victory he has won for them.
So, it is important for you to have Jesus with you today. Jesus told St. Martha, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die." (John 11:25-26) And so we need to believe in Jesus now, because we don't know when we will die. Believing in Jesus is not simply knowing that Jesus lived, died, and rose again. Believing in Jesus is grabbing hold of him in faith. Faith hears God's Word gladly and trusts in God's promises therein. Faith runs to be with Jesus, taking comfort in Baptism, the Lord's Supper, Absolution, and the preaching of the Word, because there is where Jesus promises to be. Faith in Jesus teaches you to find comfort as you face your own impending death. And this is comfort that the world cannot possibly give. This is comfort greater than any eulogy could give to those attending a funeral. Can Jesus raise this dead body from the dead? He most certainly can! And he most certainly will. Jesus will raise your dead body from the dead with less effort than you rouse a sleeping child in the morning.
At the end of Wednesday night Vespers we often sing, "All Praise to Thee, My God, This Night" and one of the verses is so beautiful and fitting for today's lesson. "Teach me to live that I may dread The grave as little as my bed. Teach me to die that so I may Rise glorious at the awful day." (LSB 883:3) And how are we taught to die with such courage? By learning to trust in Jesus. Jesus defeated death, so we want Jesus to be with us at all times. St. Paul prays in our Epistle lesson, "that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith." (Eph. 3:17) If Jesus dwells in you, death cannot hold you down.
In your Small Catechism you learned, "on the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true." Everyone will rise from the dead on the Last Day. Everyone will rise, but not everyone will enter eternal life. Those who believed in Christ to the end will enter into eternal life. Those who did not believe will be condemned. And so, we pray that Jesus abide with us always, especially when we face our own death. Another beautiful hymn we sing on Wednesday nights is "Abide with me." In the last verse we pray, "Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes; Shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies. Heav'n's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee; In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me." (LSB 878:6)
We need Jesus as we face death. And we are always facing death. Jesus completely defeats death, so that you do not need to fear its bite. If Jesus dwells in you, death is nothing but falling asleep. So, let us continue to hear God's Word, receive Christ's body and blood, and pray to Jesus for needed forgiveness, so that on that great day we will recognize our Savior's voice when he calls each of us by name and says, "I say to you, arise."
Let us pray.
Thanks to Thee, O Christ, victorious! Thanks to Thee, O Lord of Life! Death hath now no power o'er us, Thou hast conquered in the strife. Thanks because Thou didst arise And hast opened paradise! None can fully sing the glory Of the resurrection story. Amen. (LSB 548:1)